Mass hysteria has gripped Ireland, England, and the United States over reports that nearly 800 bodies of children have been found in a mass grave outside a former mother/baby home run by nuns in Tuam, near Galway.
The Catholic Church has been hammered incessantly, and shrill cries of maltreatment abound. Indeed, some news stories have declared this to be "Ireland's Holocaust"; Andrew Sullivan has even accused the Catholic Church of operating "death camps."
It's all a hoax: There is no mass grave. Moreover, the Nazi analogy belittles what happened to Jews under Hitler, and dishonors Irish nuns. The nuns never put kids into ovens; they did not starve them to death; and they did not torture anyone.
Even if the most glaringly dishonest stories about children who died in Irish homes were true, they would not come close to approaching the monstrous atrocities that Jews endured under the Nazis. To make such a comparison is obscene.
No one disagrees that between 1925 and 1961, 796 children died at this home in Tuam. But the notion that a mass grave existed on the site of the home is oddly enough credited to the same person who says there never was one. His name is Barry Sweeney. Here's what happened.
In 1975, when Sweeney was 10, he and a friend were playing on the grounds where the home was when they stumbled on a hole with skeletons in it. On St. Patrick's Day this year, Sweeney heard about the controversy while conversing in a pub, and that inspired him to open up to reporters. He told the Irish Times that "there was no way there were 800 skeletons down that hole. Nothing like that number." How many were there? "About 20," he said.
The mass grave story is traceable to the work of a local historian, Catherine Corless. In 2012, she wrote a splendid piece about the Tuam home in a journal. Things changed earlier this year when her rhetoric became increasingly heated: She started making accusations against the order of nuns who tended to the women and children, the Bon Secours Sisters.
One of the reasons she changed her tune was her encounter with Martin Sixsmith, the English atheist who wrote the book upon which the movie, "Philomena," was based. His contempt for Catholicism, and his flagrantly dishonest account of Philomena Lee, is indisputable.
Douglas Dalby of the New York Times wrote about the "mass grave" story when it broke, but unlike many other reporters, he did not dismiss the revelations of Sweeney. He wrote that "some of the assumptions that led Ms. Corless to her conclusion [about the mass grave] have been challenged, not least by the man she cited, Barry Sweeney, now 48, who was questioned by detectives about what he saw when he was 10 years old. 'People are making out we saw a mass grave,' he said he had told the detectives. 'But we can only say what we seen [sic]: maybe 15 to 20 small skeletons.'"
Eamonn Fingleton, writing in Forbes, notes that "experts believe that the babies were buried in unmarked graves within the grounds of the orphanage." This was not uncommon in Ireland in the first half of the 20th century; this is the way church-run orphanages and workhouses buried their dead.
In many ways, the observations of Brendan O'Neill are the most impressive. He is an Irish atheist with no dog in this fight, save for telling the truth.
"On almost every level," O'Neill said in his June 9 article in Spiked, "the news reports in respectable media outlets around the world were plain wrong. Most importantly, the constantly repeated line about the bodies of 800 babies having been found was pure myth making. The bodies of 800 babies had not been found, in the septic tank or anywhere else." The myth was the product of Corless' "speculation" that the children who died in the home were buried in a mass grave.
O'Neill is adamant in his conviction that "it's actually not possible that all 800 babies are in this tank-cum-crypt, as pretty much every media outlet has claimed." He cites a story in the Irish Times that says "the septic tank was still in use up to 1937, 12 years after the home opened, during which time 204 of the 796 deaths occurred—and it seems impossible that more than 200 bodies could have been put in a working sewage tank."
Adding considerable weight to the observations of O'Neill and Fingleton is Dr. Finbar McCormick. He teaches at the School of Geography, Archeology and Palaeoecology at Queens University in Belfast. He berates the media for using the term "septic tank" to describe the child burials at the home.
"The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many parts of Europe." He specifically says that, "Many maternal hospitals in Ireland had a communal burial place for stillborn children or those who died soon after birth. These were sometimes in a nearby graveyard but more often in a special area within the grounds of the hospital."
Some in the mainstream media are beginning to walk back their tales of woe, and the Associated Press has issued an apology for its distortions. But a lot of damage has been done. The nuns did their best, under difficult conditions, with the abandoned women and children they served. They deserve better.
Dr. William Donohue is the president of and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization. The publisher of the Catholic League journal, Catalyst, Bill is a former Bradley Resident Scholar at the Heritage Foundation and served for two decades on the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars. The author of five books, two on the ACLU, and the winner of several teaching awards and many awards from the Catholic community, Donohue has appeared on thousands of television and radio shows speaking on civil liberties and social issues. Read more reports from Bill Donohue — Click Here Now.
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