A most diluted apology…
I don’t often get angry, but to see the truth that we already knew laid bare in black in white, has made my blood boil. Between the foundation of our state in 1922 until 1998 when the last Mother and Baby Home was closed, 9,000 of the 57,000 children that were born in just 18 such houses of horror, died. The Mother and Baby Homes Commission report has finally outlined in frightening detail, what happened to young vulnerable women and their children at the hands of church and state in Ireland, often with the compliance of others in our society. In recent days, even more shocking than the report itself, have been the harrowing first person accounts from survivors of such institutions.
I was always angry knowing about such places, I was angry when the report came out but this morning when I read what was, in the words of the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, “unreserved apologies” I was livid.
They say when an apology comes with a ‘but’, it is an empty hand. That an apology so ‘unreserved’ is qualified in any way, makes it reserved in the extreme and he should be ashamed of himself for the language he used in offering such a hollow gesture.
To welcome the report, while mitigating the Churches role by ‘accepting’ the Church was ‘part of the culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected’ is offensive to all of us. It completely underplays the role of the Church in physical, mental and sexual abuse of the women in their care, their coercion, their complicity in the crimes of others, the guilt they should bear for many horrific crimes and cover ups. To make matters worse he repeats the lie that the apology is unreserved, as though he is reinforcing the apology.
“The Commission’s Report helps to further open to the light what was for many years a hidden part of our shared history and it exposes the culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing which faced ‘unmarried mothers’ and their children in this country.”
The key for those who missed it, is the inclusion of the word “shared” and the audacity to apply the word ‘culture’. This careful use of language is the ‘but’ in the conceited words of a man representing the sins of his organisation. He had drawn others into the blame game, to dilute, redirect and divert. I used the term careful use of language and it very much is a deliberate act of misdirection. This is not an unreserved apology. It is far from it. He is like an illusionist pointing to one thing to distract from the other. It is akin to a shady lawyer looking to get a serial killer off on a technicality.
There are others that need to answer questions for sure, like the parents who in some cases abandoned their children to these places, because of the shame their young pregnant children brought to their families. Children as young as 12 in some cases. There were families who hid the evidence of incest and rape, by abandoning their daughters to the nuns and priests who only added to their pain. There were the Gardaí, policemen sworn to protect them, who aided and abetted in the process and of course the Governments of the time, who were happy to let the church take the responsibility and cost from their hands.
But let’s not forget, that all of the groups listed in the preceding paragraphs, while complicit, do not ‘share’ the responsibility in the way the Archbishop would like us to believe. They were complicit and guilty of many things, of that there is no doubt. However, in the first instance, excusing it as that’s the way things were back then and that we all were part of a society that does such things, is a poor excuse for an apology and it demands a better one. What we know to be wrong now and what we knew to be fundamentally wrong back then has not changed.
The fear that drove people to feel such shame and to act on it, had a name. It was the Catholic Church. The fear that politicians had of going against the Church, came from the pulpit at weekly mass. The control and power the Church had in Ireland when it came to matters of the state, should not be forgotten. Having read though the report, one startling fact is that there is no evidence that unmarried mothers were ever discussed at cabinet in the first 50 years of this state’s existence. That’s until 1972 in old money. They wouldn’t have dared.
I grew up in an Ireland where the parish priest had more power than anyone in my community. I bear witness to the abuse many of my friends suffered at the hand of men and women of the cloth. I know many truths, like the girl I know who was raped by her family and asked the priest for help, only to be berated for her shamefulness and told to stay quiet. But we were not all complicit. Those who the Archbishop implies were complicit in the ‘shared history’ were not complicit, only controlled.
The report and the statements of survivors, outline countless abuses of young girls, branded as shameful because they were pregnant out of wedlock. Girls who were forced to work daily, going to bed afraid, waking up afraid. Babies being taken away and sold overseas for profit, not long after birth. What were in many cases, pregnant children being forced to do degrading labour, unblocking toilets with their bare hands, seeing babies being buried secretly in shoe boxes. Young girls giving birth while being verbally abused for their sins, being stitched afterwards without anaesthetic, having symphysiotomies performed without their knowledge. Girls who after giving birth, were only allowed to see their babies once a day when a bell would ring and being forced to stand facing a wall to breastfeed their new-born babies.
It is truly our nations shame but that doesn’t excuse the pathetic, offensive and unfeeling excuse for an apology from the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland that I read today. How unholy the attempt to spread the responsibility to a community that was at the time, under the thumb of a Church who had their fingers in every orifice of state control. This is part of the ‘apology’ offered
“Mindful of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls us to protect life and dignity and to treat everyone – especially little children and all who are vulnerable – with love, compassion and mercy, I believe the Church must continue to acknowledge before the Lord and before others its part in sustaining what the Report describes as a ‘harsh … cold and uncaring atmosphere.’
That in all of this reference to dignity, respect, love and compassion, the closest he gets to an apology is ‘acknowledging its part in sustaining a harsh, cold and uncaring atmosphere.” Seriously! He further accepts that that “the Church was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected.”
In case you missed the ‘but’ in his apology here, it is the words ‘its part’ and ‘part of that culture’. They were the draughtsmen of that culture, the puppeteers, the writers of this story. Acknowledging that the Church played some part, is the world’s greatest understatement. None of this was accidental. The Church held all the cards and made all the rules. The deaths were recorded. They knew what was going on.
But the Archbishop somehow thinks he has it all covered in the so-called apology, when having made countless reservations and excuses, passing the blame across society as though it was an even thing, the biggest ‘but’ of all, comes in his words when he says;
“For that, and for the long-lasting hurt and emotional distress that has resulted, I unreservedly apologise to the survivors and to all those who are personally impacted by the realities it uncovers.”
For that? For your diluted part in what you actually created and what you are independently , wholly responsible for? For being part of a shared inhumanity that we basically are all guilty of? That is what the Archbishop is trying to do here, make no mistake. Sure weren’t all guilty? These things didn’t happen under the broad Irish sky, in full view of society. These things, these crimes, these abuses and immoral acts of degradation and violence towards innocent girls and babies, happened behind closed doors in institutions of the Church with full approval of all of those in authority in the Church. There was the added disgrace that many of these young mothers, many still children themselves, were then placed into the Magdalene laundries, equally appalling Church run institutions, that were a second assault on the lives of many young girls.
Archbishop Eamonn Martin, should be ashamed of himself and needs to look at his words. Yes, I am angry. That the inequality that left the door open for such abuse of women was systemic and widespread, is not in question. That our state bears a huge burden of responsibility in this regard is certainly not in dispute. That we as a community facilitated the abusers by our silent complicity and in many cases by direct action or inaction, is also something undeniable. All of this deserves our attention, all of this deserves to be questioned.
But nine thousand children died in these institutions run by the church, 200 women also died there in childbirth. At least 1600 babies sent for adoption and likely a lot more, many sold to families in America, with no hope of ever being reunited with their mothers. At least 7 vaccine trials were carried out without the consent of the mothers under the supervision of the Church, no doubt it came with funding and Lord knows what else. The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland responded in the most disingenuous manner. How dare he tarnish the truth of those that suffered with such a shameful attempt to apologize, without taking full responsibility. How dare he add the lie that the apology is unreserved for it most certainly is not, without showing the people who suffered at the hands of the Church the respect to say sorry properly, without trying to dilute their guilt by adding other parties, to share in their crimes as they are held to account. You have offered an empty hand Archbishop. May your God forgive you for your moral cowardice.
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