In mid-2014, several media outlets ran a disturbing story about how two boys stumbled upon a septic tank in Tuam, Ireland (near Galway City), only to discover human bones in them.
Researcher Catherine Corless, who had been looking into a home in the same region once run by the Bon Secours nuns, realized that many of the children who had died in their care (up to 800 of them over several decades) had no records of public burials. She wondered if all those children had been “buried” inside the septic tank.
It was a devastating realization that came decades too late for anyone to do anything about it. But what was also troubling was how no one knew about this until 2014. Did the nuns really get away with all this maltreatment? Did they really toss aside the human remains so callously?
“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.”
Oh, hell yes, we can judge the past. It’s not like this happened so long ago, and the Catholic Church is hardly blameless when it comes to scandals.
Later that month, however, the Associated Press reported that the story, which by then had made headlines all over the world, was greatly exaggerated. The septic tank may not have been a burial site at all, and the number of children who died in the nuns’ care may not have been close to 800 at all.
Contrary to the allegations of widespread starvation highlighted in some reports, only 18 children were recorded as suffering from severe malnutrition.
That’s 18 too many, of course, but a far cry from what initial reports suggested.
Well, a Commission was assigned to investigate the matter and they just issued their final report today, nearly three years later after the story first broke.
It turns out the facts really are as disturbing as we always feared:
The Commission has completed two test excavations of the Galway site and today confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains have been discovered” in a structure which appears to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.
There were remains found in at least 17 of the 20 chambers. A small number of the remains were recovered for testing. A scientific analysis has put the ages of the deceased at between 35 foetal weeks to two to three years old.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that they are from the time the Bon Secours home was in operation between 1925 and 1961. A number of the samples are likely to be from the 1950s.
Investigators will continue their work and justice will depend on what they find. But it’s deeply upsetting to realize that Corless may have been right this whole time, and these children, so poorly cared for by a group of Catholic nuns over several decades, were tossed aside so carelessly both in life and after it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Ashling for the link)