Lurid headlines are erupting from Ireland about infant and child deaths, illegal adoptions and vaccine trials at mother-and-baby homes operated by Catholic-run institutions in the early to middle 20th century.
Here we go again, as if earlier scandals of priest sex abuse of children and the Magdalene laundries weren’t bad enough. This could be worse.
The story is evolving. Here’s a sampling of headlines and commentary:
Ireland Mother-and-Baby Home Inquiry May Delve Beyond Deaths, U.S. News & World Report.
The examination is expected to be part of a larger investigation called for by politicians and Catholic Church officials into the Catholic-run institutions, and comes in the wake of the recent discovery that nearly 800 babies died at the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam between 1926 and 1961.
Ireland Investigating Complaints Against Unwed Mother Homes, The New York Times
Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s minister for children, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that it was important “that a light be shone on these dark periods.” He added, “I believe that Tuam should not be looked at in isolation because over the last century we have had mother-and-baby homes right up and down the country.”
The surprising thing about the Tuam disclosures is that we are surprised. Modern Ireland has an amazing capacity for self-induced amnesia. The systemic abuses that took place in industrial schools, mental hospitals, county homes and laundries were well documented but largely ignored.
Learning from the past can be a disturbing process. It involves an examination of failures and the acceptance of hurtful conclusions. It means making amends for past societal wrongs. It should establish why certain things happened, rather than heap blame on those who implemented policy. An examination of current discriminatory practices would also help. As a society, we have an uncomfortable road to travel.
What Ireland did with the help and instruction of the religious orders in the twentieth century was to remove love and responsibility from each man’s actions, by replacing them with judgment and condemnation.
The society they created together is what we’re looking at now. We know now that tens of thousands of Irishmen abandoned the women they impregnated and the child that was the result, over and over again, for most of the the 20 century.
They did this without injury to their livelihoods or reputations. They discovered they could walk between the raindrops, so they did.