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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Niall Carson/PA Wire The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway.
Opinion Tuam's 800 babies – a legacy of shame and horror beyond words
The misogynistic meddling of the Catholic church in affairs of this young state was detrimental to the blossoming of a whole, enlightened and fulfilled society – and nobody bore the brunt of that more than vulnerable women and their babies.


I find catching and naming you, understanding you, coming to terms with your legacy in my life as difficult as dancing with a shadow. And I have long felt I needed to express the following sentiments. Now I am almost beyond words at the uncovering of truth behind the Mass Grave at the ‘Home’ of the Bon Secour nuns in Tuam, Co Galway.

In the early years of abuses uncovered within the Roman Catholic Church, I listened to your euphemistic rhetoric by old and angry men with heart heavy, utter shock, helplessness and despair. Phrases such as ‘past events are painful’, ‘we will all heal together’, ‘we all ask for forgiveness’ for atrocity after atrocity.

I do not need anyone’s forgiveness.

Crimes against humanity ignored 

The recent revelation that a mass grave filled with the remains of innocent children was uncovered in Tuam, Co Galway on a site of a Bon Secour ‘Home’ has deeply shocked me.
It echoes Dachau, Rwanda, Iraq, Sri Lanka. It was carried out under the guise of care and cleansing, of the work of God and the Bon Secour nuns in tandem with the town.

The reality is often the brutal incest and rape of these women being ignored as crimes against humanity, in favour of forced birth, forced adoption, forced starvation and neglect of the youngest and most innocent members of our society.

Sadly, it often appears that this nation has somewhat reached collective saturation about crimes against humanity connected with the Roman Catholic Church. Very many have long switched off their tired ears and their clever minds, closed their hearts to words and, in turn, heinous acts – such as rape, abuse, paedophilia, coercion, industrial homes, adoption, indulgences, Magdalene Laundries and so on. Either through absolute horror, through sadness or, like many including myself, through a shame and guilt that is not in fact ours to own.

It has been reflected onto the consciousness of a generation. Very many have left your church with their faith rocked, some remained. Many remain in name, their faith often outweighing the sins and crimes of recent appalling events.

The sinister cost of Ireland’s freedom

The hard-fought freedom of this country came at a dark and sinister cost. The misogynistic meddling of the church in affairs of this young state was detrimental to the blossoming of a whole, educated, enlightened and fulfilled society. Far, far from the Republic envisaged for me by my great foremothers and forefathers was the oppressive hand of the Roman Catholic Church in our constitution, reflecting a dynamic far removed from Christianity.

There is no doubting that history is cyclical and all young states are fearful; politicians overly rely on hierarchical control in many cases; and in turn the poor, the new citizens from a culture of forced colonisation, are most often vulnerable as fodder for a new sad dawn of oppression.

And they say we judge society by the way we treat these people, those most vulnerable and in need. I do not lay claim to having the moral authority to judge – yet, if one is to value and respect the teachings of your Jesus Christ, one would not build palaces and statues of marble. They would not force women into prisons and steal their babies, refusing full and whole hearted apologies when reviewing the past, protecting their assets, often received as an honest gift from a follower of this faith, they would not side step honesty and truth and love. They would not hide from atrocities in awkward dissociation of acts carried out by senior members of their organisation, including the Bon Secour nuns. They would not inflict more unnecessary pain.

Jesus Christ would not see these things done in his name

Sadly, the Irish RCC has behaved like this over and over and over again. To such an extent that the institution conjures up nothing but sin and avoidance and dishonesty for me. It has behaved as oppressor, often attacking the most vulnerable. Nationally and internationally it has, in my opinion, side-stepped its absolute duty of care to the innocent and weak, through clever rhetoric and gross PR machines, often beyond the thoughts, comprehensions and capabilities of the ordinary person.

This Jesus Christ you lay your claim to, your love of, would not recognise the fanfare of hierarchy that has been concocted in his name. A plethora of abuses in his wake, far more insidious than those abuses preceding the Reformation of the late Middle Ages.

We are long, long past polite rhetoric, excuses and rasped apologies.

The early excuses and lies rolled out to cover up systematic abuse of mostly vulnerable children and women under the guise of religion is repugnant to human nature. I urge the institutions’ hierarchy, towards honesty, openess and enlightenment, respect and value for these dead children going forward.

I find the mindset of hierarchy so difficult to understand. All people are born equal in my opinion, yet in very different circumstances. And as human beings, it is our responsibility to ensure those around us, born into a more vulnerable position, are helped up.

How do we deal with this horror? 

I ask you what good a brass plaque ever served the dead? What a gross marking for these dead children. Are we to mark them as heroes on this memorial? As victims? As unfortunate creatures of unhealth? As murdered children? What of their living siblings? Are they to be informed of their siblings’ forced adoption statistics? Death statistics?

Are we to take each one out, piece by piece, and try to put them back together and wrap them in swaddling clothes? Or are they merged together? What of their poor mothers, left shamed through an act of biology? Are they, too, dead? What of the mothers still living in the Tuam area who cast a similar shadow of my own mother?

As a woman and a mother, I ask what now? What now?

There is no shame and never was in motherhood, pregnancy and womanhood, in reproductive autonomy, yet over and over again, historically your organisation made it so. Shame, big bully boy shame, imprinted on our psyche, a moving shadow.

What now? Where now? How?

We need to understand

I urge you not to defend your church now through dissociation with this, people need answers and healing, please do not say that your church was not directly connected to this, we need to understand why such atrocious crimes were carried out, with so little inkling towards humanity.

This has shocked me and deeply, deeply saddened me, yet again. When can we all begin to name this, name it as it was for the Irish people, a gross manipulation of the simple folk.

And finally, for God’s sake, Count Me Out of your corrupt organisation, because if there is any truth in the God you misuse for your own power, know this, she is watching you,

Eventually we all have to accept full and total responsibility for our actions, everything we have done, and have not done.

— Hubert Selby Jr, Requiem for a Dream

Elaine Feeney is a poet and teacher, based in Galway

Read: Multiple government departments to deal with ‘deeply disturbing revelations’ of child burials

Read: Mary Lou McDonald warns that Tuam mass grave could be one of ‘dozens’

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