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Irish government finalises terms of inquiry into mother-baby homes 

By on Thursday, 26 June 2014

Members of Tuam Home Graveyard Committee on the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway (PA)

Members of Tuam Home Graveyard Committee on the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway (PA)

The Irish government is finalising the parameters of a judicial inquiry into church-run state-funded mother and baby homes.

The inquiry comes amid increased disquiet about some of the reporting of the original story of St Mary’s Home in Tuam, run by the Bon Secours congregation of nuns.

In May, local historian Catherine Corless revealed her research, which found that between 1925 and 1961, 796 infants died in the home for unmarried mothers and their children. She had found no evidence that they were buried in local cemeteries and instead believed that the children may have been buried in a common grave on the site.

However, several media outlets began reporting that the children had been “dumped” in a disused septic tank on the site. Within days, the international media was gripped by the story — much of which turned out to be factually inaccurate.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has expressed support for a judicial inquiry.

“The only way we will come out of this particular period of our history is when the truth comes out,” he said.

“The indications are that if something happened in Tuam, it probably happened in other mother and baby homes around the country. That is why I believe that we need a full-bodied investigation. There is no point in investigating just what happened in Tuam and then next year finding out more,” Archbishop Martin said.

Charlie Flanagan, minister for children and youth affairs, said the inquiry will look at all homes.

“It’s time for sensitivity rather than sensationalism,” he said.

Corless, who lives near the site of the home, has criticized the coverage of her research.

“I never used that word ‘dumped,’” she insisted. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”

The Associated Press also falsely reported that the children were upbaptised and that Catholic teaching dictated that children born out of wedlock should not be baptized.

In a correction issued June 20, AP admitted that it had gotten many facts wrong about the story.

“In stories published June 3 and June 8 about young children buried in unmarked graves after dying at a former Irish orphanage for the children of unwed mothers, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that the children had not received Roman Catholic baptisms; documents show that many children at the orphanage were baptized.

“The AP also incorrectly reported that Catholic teaching at the time was to deny baptism and Christian burial to the children of unwed mothers; although that may have occurred in practice at times, it was not church teaching. In addition, in the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any. The June 3 story also contained an incorrect reference to the year that the orphanage opened; it was 1925, not 1926.”

In a June 23 report, AP went further, saying that “revelations this month that nuns had buried nearly 800 infants and young children in unmarked graves at an Irish orphanage during the last century caused stark headlines and stirred strong emotions and calls for investigation.

“Since then, however, a more sober picture has emerged that exposes how many of those headlines were wrong,” the AP said.

AP conceded that “the case of the Tuam ‘mother and baby home’ offers a study in how exaggeration can multiply in the news media, embellishing occurrences that should have been gripping enough on their own.”

Corless, who lives near the site of the Tuam mother and baby home, has been working for several years on records associated with the institution. The children’s names, ages, places of birth, and causes of death were recorded. The average number of deaths during the 36-year period was just over 22 a year. The information recorded on these state-issued certificates shows that the children died variously of tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis, and meningitis, among other illnesses.

Infant mortality in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s was in the region of 70 per 1,000 or 7%, as high as countries in sub-Saharan Africa have now. For much of the period covered, mortality rates among so-called “illegitimate children” was five times that of the rest of the population.

David Quinn, director of the Dublin-based religious think-tank The Iona Institute, said, “There was a rush to believe the worst about the nuns and about Catholic Ireland.

“The fact that some terrible things did happen in church-run institutions is no excuse whatsoever. Journalists are supposed to check facts. That is absolutely basic to journalism. Mistakes will obviously be made from time to time, but when a whole plethora of various serious mistakes are made in the one story, and I’m not just talking about AP here, then we’ve got a problem,” he said.

Quinn said some media even reported that the nuns were starving the babies and that many had died of malnutrition.

“Only a handful died of malnutrition. Those that did may well have arrived in the home already severely malnourished or had badly malnourished mothers,” he said.

“The rest died of highly infectious diseases like measles, which would often kill a dozen babies in the space of a fortnight. From the late 1940s when antibiotics came on stream, the death rate plunged,” Quinn said.


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  • Guest

    What has not been addressed in all this is the casual anti-Catholic stance favoured by all too many ‘c’atholics – a particularly favoured position for armchair ‘rebel’ Irish minds (demanding ‘freedom’ from everything and anything and all and all .. other than their own fond prejudices).

    God Bless Our Pope! Lord, help us all!

    St Michael defend us in the day of battle!

    Papa Pacelli – Beato Subito/ Santo Subito!

  • Kyle

    The septic tank story really did a disservice…
    To work through the muck, all that needs to be done is the following:
    1.) Locate where the death records for all 796 babies/infants/children were taken to from 1925 until 1960 — 1961 being the year when the St. Mary’s Home was supposed to have closed. Apparently this has already been done, and the death records are at the Tuam regsitry office.
    Step 2, then:
    2.) Find out from the Bon Secours sisters (the nuns who ran the Home) and/or someone within the the Roman Catholic Church where all of the 796 babies/infants/children were buried. If no written, tangible proof from either of them is provided of where all 796 are buried exists…
    Step 3, then:
    3.) If the location where they were supposedly buried is a memorial marker, then start the process of exhumation to determine if all 796 were buried there.
    If someone of an official status were to go to the appropriate place in Ireland, Britain, the U.S. etc, to find death records for, say, ten people who died, and they then needed to find the location where those 10 were buried, and they were told that no tangible, written proof existed that they were buried at a particular site, or were not given said written proof, and they were told was that there was a memorial stone marking the place where the ten were supposedly buried, you can bet that an exhumation of the site would commence to determine if all 10 were buried there…
    This is a clean, legal, non anti-Catholic way to go about this.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    Please note there looks to be a mistake in this story: the number of death certificates gathered by Catherine Corless is 796, not 976.

  • Hennergogs

    And the modernist idea of freedom is to be able to do as one pleases without taking responsibility for the consequences of anything one might do or say.

  • Andrew Milhurst

    I did point out these errors when they occured. There was a CH debate last week on this matter. Will those who downplayed those doubts please come forward and apologise?
    Many of these exaggerations originated in the Irish media. Naturally,the international anti-Catholic media were over-joyed to use the story to throw more muck. The correction will be in smaller print and on an inside page in an obscure corner.
    The underlying media and political motive in playing up the issue has much to do with brainwashing the Irish electorate into accepting SSM in a forthcoming referendum. False feminism and the gay lobby are united in their hatred of the Church.
    Irish bishops find themselves once again very ready to assume sackcloth and ashes and loud lamentations assuming guilt where none existed. Ireland needs shepherds with strong fearless voices which have the ring of authority, not the dirge of automatic apology.
    Try Googling “Famine Graves In Ireland” Get out your calculators to keep score, and then ask, “Who was responsible for this?”

    It is only in recent years that life in Ireland has increased a little in value. Mammon is the secret deity of unholy Ireland, and Moloch has many female adherents.

  • Andrew Milhurst

    I cannot help thinking that anti-racism laws were introduced to ensure that no mention was made of the originators, rather than to protect their victims. Thankfully many books recording the true history are stored away in many private homes.

  • Andrew Milhurst

    You are right. And the death certificates morphed into an image of feverish and sadistic nuns slinging the 800 corpses of tortured children into a functioning septic tank.
    Anyone interested might google ” Cathleen Corless/ Tuam” and from that web page pick up much information which has been available since July 7th.

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  • The Catholic Herald

    Thank you for pointing that out – the figure has now been changed.

  • Perpetua

    Just read this at, where the AP’s retraction of the “refusal of baptism” story is treated as caving in to a Catholic lobby (despite the fact that more than 2000 baptism certificates have been found): “Look at these anthropological rites of passage from the standpoint of the various religious and cultural traditions of the world, many of which regard the exclusion of infants from the rite of passage that marks his/her inclusion in the community as a kind of death knell for that infant. Viewed in this anthropological context, which helpfully widens the discussion beyond the narrow, ignorant polemics of a tired old anti-Catholicism that abhors infant baptism, the denial of baptism to infants in a largely Catholic culture takes on an entirely new level of meaning.” There was no denial of baptism — that was an invention of the Daily Mail (aka the Daily Insult).

  • Perpetua

    I don’t think gay marriage has been an issue, but the story has certainly become fodder for abortion propaganda. “The dirge of automatic apology” is rather sickening — Abp Martin has done some of it and so have superiors of religious orders who should not have been so naive.

  • Perpetua

    The only fact in the whole affair is that child mortality was high in children homes, due to epidemics etc. This was true in many countries, such as the USA. Ireland will now spend a fortune investigating what was hardly a little-known fact, money that could be better spent on helping children suffering hunger, prostitution, poor health care, vicious mistreatment (especially if they are immigrants) TODAY.

  • Perpetua

    Many adult poor in Ireland were tossed into unmarked burial places — there is no need to dig up their skeletons. It might be asked why the kids in Tuam were not buried in the local cemetary, in the Holy Angels collective grave for infants — Icould it be that the locals did not want to mix their kids with the unwanted?

  • fredx2

    Conspiracy sites always treat anything good as caving in to the Catholic Lobby. As soon as they found out that Pope Francis was actually Catholic, they started blaming dark forces in the Vatican for forcing him to do this or that. The funniest one is that Benedict XVI is forcing him to do things. Some people like to live in a conspiracy mindset.

  • fredx2

    They are going to vote on a gay marriage amendment next year. The only reason for media outlets to run so flimsy a story without checking anything is to poison the atmosphere. So, the media is trying to defame the church as much as possible to diminish the church’s voice.

  • Andrew Milhurst

    Yes. It might bring bad luck. And bad luck means no money or loss of social status. A community commandment.

  • Andrew Milhurst

    A merciless, cold-hearted community commandment. Still common.

  • Perpetua

    no, it is just the Daily Mail acting as usual, as the tabloid it is. but the other media should have checked the story. since these were non-Irish media like the Washington Post and AP I don’t think it has to do with the upcoming referendum on gay marriage

  • Perpetua

    are you trying to caricature catholic loyalism?

  • Kyle

    That question is one that will not go away — and it is one that has been uttered by not only you but many less others.
    There was a consecrated cemetery nearby, one that could afford an individual burial for each of the 796 dead children.
    And it wasn’t a question of money, either, given that during this time period, churches, monasteries, et,c could be erected and even the mildest of creature comforts (wine for instance) could be doled out to nuns, priests, etc, to drink – and wine not just for Eucharistic services – but wine for personal use. Given this, why then couldn’t the church find it within themselves to bury theses poor chuildren individually?

  • Kyle

    So, is the modren route of not taking responsibility and letting others – via tax dollars – take care of them better than the times when unwed mothers (but not the men) were maligned as “fallen,” and they and their children were left to the tender mercies of homes for the children of unwed mothers – be they Catholic or not – as some from each (both religious and non-erligious) had appalling records of showing the slightest of “tender mercies”?

  • Sara_TMS_again

    I hope the investigation will have people thinking a bit more extensively about the complexities of the situation, including the implications for abortion. But yes- child poverty still goes on and is a disgrace.

  • Kyle

    Where are the 796 buried at?
    While the Bon Secours sisters (the nuns who ran St. Mary’s Home) from 1926 until 1961 did indeed keep death records, and the Tuam registry office has them, neither they, nor anyone within the Roman Catholic Church, has yet to offer written, tangible proof for burial records – burial location(s) – for the 796 dead kids.
    If a detective went looking for even 10 dead children, and was given death records, but nor burial records, yet was told that all 10 were buried under a lovely memorial stone marker – you can bet that heads would roll. He, a prosecutor or a gov’t entity would exhume that place to see if any, some or all of them were indeed buried there.
    It has come to light that hundreds of dead children were used in medical experiments, and none have any names, age or gender identification to identify them. While we don’t know if any of the dead at the St. Mary’s Home were used in such manner, how do we know they weren’t?

  • Hennergogs

    If you think unwed mothers and pregnant teenagers are not maligned in the UK today then I think you are sadly mistaken. There are an awful lot more of them now.
    I also think you are quite wrong to say that men are not criticised. They certainly are in Catholic teaching but it seems the secular world ignores their responsibility, but then liberal authoritarianism has snookered itself over that.
    Have you seen how many children are in the “care” of the state these days? I would have to check but I believe a BBC report said that they go on to make up a third of the homeless and a quarter of the prison population. Does anybody splash this across the pages of a newspaper together with a load of made-up hoax?

  • Perpetua

    The poor, and especially the infant poor, were very commonly buried in unmarked graves in the past. Even the Holy Angels site at the local cemetery could be considered an anonymous mass grave if one was so inclined. As to vaccination experiments, this was common practice in all western countries though it tramples on the Nuremberg Code. Ideally such vaccinations were given with parental consent, but the medical establishment often bypassed the rules, on the plausible pretext that they were working to end the massive loss of life in polio and diphtheria epidemics.

  • Perpetua

    Individual burial? But as I understand it the Holy Angels plot in that cemetery did not offer individual burial but was a mass grave. The building spree of the Irish Church is denounced as scandalous in a novel of the time, Father Ralph. However that is about the period 1900-1910. The Free State, post-1922 was dirt poor. How many churches were built from 1920 to 1950? There was a boom in church building in the 1950s. I doubt your picture of nuns and priests as winebibbers — what is your evidence?

  • Perpetua

    very interesting re “bad luck” — can you give more info on this?

  • Perpetua

    And there is a huge scandal about British kids being abused and exported to Australia in the 1950s

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  • Kyle

    “The poor… were very commonly buried in unmarked graves in the past.”: Straw Man argument. The Bon Secours sisters kept individual death records for each of the 796 children, but not so with the burial records, and this is quite telling, as it was quite common then to keep both death AND burial records (burial locations), especially for baptized individuals. Given that (and many others as well) are now reporting that children then were being subjected to medical experiments and had no identifiers – such as name, age, gender, etc – it is imperative to find out exactly how many are buried at the Tuam site.

  • Kyle

    As if the locals had the Bon Secours sisters and the church leaders above the sisters at their beckon call and could crack the whip and say no to them being buried at the Holy Angels site. BTW, it is interesting that you limit this to the Holy Angels site. There were severeal other cemeteries neraby (within a 30 mile radius) where the Tuam children could have buried. The church was not impoverished, we know this, so please don’t insult anyone here by claiming that the Holy Angels site was the only location, that no money was available to be sent to the sisters form other RC entities so as to esnure a individual burial. If any children deserved it, these did. As well, given that (and many others, too) are now reporting that hundreds of kids then in Ireland were being subjected to medical experiments – and had no identifiers, such as name, age, gender, etc – perhaps even moreso now we need to exhume this site to make absolutely sure if all 796 are indeed there. Surely neither you nor anyone else would want anyone to think that someone has something to hide, right? Maximum transparency and sunlight is needed in this situation so as to put it all to rest for good. Who wouldn’t want that?

  • Kyle

    Holy Angels wasn’t the only place available for burial. BTW, I never pictured them as being winebibbers, so that is a mischaracterization on your part. Nuns and priests do drink, so I imagine that over time, abstinence from wine would offer some $ to ensure an individual burial for some at other local cemeteries nearby (say within a 30 mile radius). Secondly, I have not read of any account of any sister at St. Mary’s Home dying of malnutrition or doing without. Sure, they didn’t live a life of luxury, but the sisters were hardly so poor that St. Mary’s and other churches and RCC entities outside of Ireland that weren’t poor could have sent $$$ to St. Mary’s to afford individual burial for the 796, as Holy Angels wasn’t the only cemetery where they could have been buried. This has been commented on by several newspapers, even those that could hardly be considered anti-Catholic. — that other cemeteries were available. If someone had objected to this, you can be sure that the church would have overrode their objection and buried the 796 wherever they pleased, given that Ireland was hardly a Republic from 1926 until 1961.

  • Kyle

    I said nothing about unwed mothers and pregnant teenagers TODAY not being maligned. I commented on how THEN unwed mothers were maligned as “fallen women” but men weren’t given the societal more or norm sanction and ascribed the descirptive of being a “fallen man.” “Fallen” was pretty much reserved then for women. Maybe not TODAY, but THEN for sure. How could thesupposed bastion and vanguard of truth and scruipture then and now not say the words “fallen woman” and “fallen man” in even near equal amounts then? And you said, and I quote again: “I think you are quite wrong to say that men ARE [present tense used by you] not criticized.” Again, you use a Red Herring. You are acting as if my previous post was present tense concerning the process of ostracizing others. I spoke of THEN, not now in my previous post, of how women were disproportionately criticzed THEN for somehow being “fallen.” Humans are born with a sin nature. Ergo, we are all “fallen.” How then could a woman be “fallen”? To fall five feet or five million – it’s all relative compared to God’s position. The priest and the unwed mother – both are fallen – and when compared to God, one can’t really say that they are really that much closer to God – and compared to Him it really doesn’t matter much.

  • Kyle

    Was it under the direction of the state or the church in Britain? The church is the vanguard of truth and has the highest of morailty and ethics, right? How could one then speak of the secular British state and Ireland (hardly a Republic in the 1950′s) in the same sentence? One cannot say that the RCC is somehow the vanguard of truth and morailty and then pull a Ad Hominem Tu Quoque – IOW, “They did it too!” Can’t have it both ways.

  • Hennergogs

    In the UK and Ireland a lot of social standards in the past were very different and were also influenced by a predominantly non-Catholic Britain. The details of who said what to whom and how these things merged I’ve never looked into other than to read about some figures such as Josephine Butler and Susan B. Anthony. In my opinion this was wrong and seems more in accordance with pre-Christian attitudes. In contemporary society men still get excused, a free pass almost these days, and there seems to be no expectation for them to behave otherwise. I don’t see this in Church Teaching though.
    Catholic Teaching has always talked about man being “fallen”. As you say it’s to do with the doctrine of original sin, Pelagianism and all that stuff.

  • Perpetua

    The Irish mother and baby homes were not scandalous as the British handling of exported kids was.

    Ireland was a Free State from 1922 and a Republic from October 1949, Of course the mother and baby homes were under the direction of the State, funded by the State, and regulated by the State.

  • Perpetua

    Ireland was indeed a Free State from 1922 and a Republic from 1949.

    Holy Angels is not a cemetery but a name for the mass graves for dead infants in Irish cemeteries. I don’t know that other places for burial were available — remember that burial is expensive and that paupers in the 1920s, in Ireland, were sometimes just dumped in a hole (as recounted by Fr James Good in an interview on this). This has nothing to do with the wishes of “the church” — it has to do simply with grinding poverty. Individual burial in separate graves for newborn or very young infants would have been regarded as a luxury.

    Vault burial was a common custom (and still is even today in some mediterranean countries), and was probably commonly applied in such Homes in the USA as well.

    The idea of fundraising to gives the babies more impressive burial is impracticable. Today the problems of homelessness in many countries could be solved in the same way — only it is not as easy as it sounds. In Ireland then there would have been a lot of use for funds, from the USA for example (but Irish American were quite stingy in fact). The huge emigration from Ireland tells clearly of the lack of financial wellbeing in the country.

    The small number of sisters at the Home were adults and so unlikely to suffer the marasmus or malnutrition associated with childhood epidemics (which in any case was a rare cause of death at the Home — if indeed it was ever the cause of death there).

    For all I know none of the sisters may ever have tasted wine in their lives. Many Irish priests were “Pioneers of the Sacred Heart”, meaning they renounced alcohol.

  • Perpetua

    If the church was as rich then as you imagine it could have spent the money ending poverty in Ireland and cleaning up unsanitary slums, a much better investment surely than arranging individual burials for kids in a way that was not the norm at the time. The idea that the Bon Secours sisters had the people of Tuam at their beck and call is surely a fantasy — there may have been local resistance to the Home being opened in their neighborhood at all — in fact I think I read somewhere that there was. The vaccination program was also normal practice in all western countries at the time, defended by top medical authorities, despite the Nuremberg Code, since it was seen as needed to stop the devastating epidemics of polio and diphtheria.

  • Kyle

    Now you use another straw man argument. I never imagined that the church in Ireland was sooooo rich. It is quyite amazing to see the lavish ornateness in vatican City and see Roman catolics simultaneously pleading poverty.They didn’t have to be riiiiiiich to buy individual burial headstones. The Vatican, other RCC entities and others in Ireland could have chipped in and easily procured the headstones for the ones who deserved it the most. The point is, is that both those within and without the church stacked up children in burial plots – especially the undesirables – and yet we have the RCC claiming then and now that it takes a higher path and standard: RCC claims made but not kept. Some higher standard. We can look back and see in so many ways that the RCC was no better then than “worldy” people or “the world.”

  • Kyle

    Ireland was a Free State in 1922 and a Republic a little later on? LOL. They were a FSINO: Free State In Name Only and a RINO: Republic In Name Only. Like the other RINO: Republican In Name Only (as in Republicans Bob Dole, Bush Sr., John McCain, and Mitt Romney). I won’t even bother to comment ont the rest of your clueless screed after that one. A Free State… a Republic? LOL. Hardly. ROTFL. I will chuckle on that for a while. That’s good…

  • Perpetua

    Well the USA is a Democracy and a Republic in name only, but such lofty judgments are out of place in this discussion. The fact is that the State had to handle the problem of huge numbers of children it could not adequately house, and that is handled it no worse and not better than Britain and the USA at the time. The nuns are being lambasted by cheap political correctness from folk who have NO historical perspective and no interest in acquiring any. Basically they devoted themselves to the weakest in society at the demand of society and the State, and received little thanks then or now.

  • Perpetua

    Sorry, buy you seem to have no knowledge of burial practices for infants in Ireland at the time. Check in Irish graveyards for individual headstones for infants and report back! Vault burial is still practiced in mediterranean countries today and is not regarded as scandalous.

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  • TieHard

    When are the Irish going to stop beating themselves up

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