Tuam Mass Grave: How to fail at moral relativism

There’s no point leading this in.

The remains of almost 800 children were buried on the grounds of an erstwhile Church-run home for unwed mothers in Tuam, Ireland. The children died between 1925 and 1961, largely of malnutrition and infectious disease. The locals in Tuam have known about this since at least 1975, when boys playing on the grounds stumbled up on a mass grave.

The Church is dealing with this markedly unpleasant revelation in its usual way:

Diocesan Secretary Fr Fintan Monaghan said today that Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary would meet Bon Secours representatives with a view to erecting a permanent memorial.

He said the nuns were separate from the running of the diocese but the Church was sympathetic to the efforts of the local community to erect a memorial.

796 children were killed and dumped into an unmarked mass grave by the Roman Catholic Church, and their response is: “We’ll talk to the nuns about building a memorial. No promises.”

I swear, the cynicism of these people knows no fucking bounds.

But that’s not the end of it. Not by a long shot. In a moment of profound separation from reality, Fr. Monaghan excuses the deaths as a product of the times:

I suppose we can’t really judge the past from our point of view, from our lens. All we can do is mark it appropriately and make sure there is a suitable place here where people can come and remember the babies that died.

I’m not a fucking historian, but when last I looked into the matter, putting 796 babies and children into the dirt was not acceptable by the moral standards of the mid 20th century. Yes, we have the right to judge the Bons Secours Sisters for what happened in Tuam. In fact, I would argue we have a moral obligation to hold them up as a paradigm example of why religious legislation has no place in civilized society, to use them as a valuable lesson against using professed religiosity as a measure of trustworthiness.

That’s neither here nor there, however, because Fr. Monaghan isn’t really saying what he’s saying. As Guardian columnist Emer O’Toole has summed it up:

Monaghan is really saying: “don’t judge the past at all”. But we must judge the past, because that is how we learn from it.

Monaghan is correct that we need to mark history appropriately. That’s why I am offering the following suggestions as to what the church should do to in response:

Do not say Catholic prayers over these dead children. Don’t insult those who were in life despised and abused by you. Instead, tell us where the rest of the bodies are. There were homes throughout Ireland, outrageous child mortality rates in each. Were the Tuam Bon Secours sisters an anomalous, rebellious sect? Or were church practices much the same the country over? If so, how many died in each of these homes? What are their names? Where are their graves? We don’t need more platitudinous damage control, but the truth about our history.

Fucking A.

But we can rest assured that this isn’t going to happen. If the Church’s sex abuse revelations have taught us anything, it is that the Church is first and foremost concerned with preserving its image as God’s divine authority on Earth. They will cover-up, placate, and make excuses until Kingdom Come, but they will not, under any circumstances, open themselves to independent criticism, let along admit to any systemic wrongdoing.







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