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A memorial errected at the site of the suspected mass grave where 796 babies are buried. Photo by: Cahir O'Doherty.

The trouble with calling the Tuam scandal a hoax

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A memorial errected at the site of the suspected mass grave where 796 babies are buried. Photo by: Cahir O'Doherty.

This week Catholic League president Bill Donohue, in a carefully crafted 16 page denunciation, blasted what he called the “hoax” and “mass hysteria” surrounding some reports about the Tuam, County Galway mothers and babies home scandal.

But with 796 infant deaths already a matter of public record, Donohue was left to object to the way some outlets had reported the news, but not the facts. It was a classic case of semantics versus substance, and about as illuminating.

Free-associating like a 1950’s beat poet, Donohue then rounded up the usual suspects for another round of scalding invective.

“Fresh off the heels of horror stories about the Magdalene Laundries, and the torment of Philomena Lee (as recorded in the film, "Philomena") the public is reeling from the latest report of abuse at the hands of cruel nuns,” he wrote. "But none of the claims made about Tuam are true,” he added.

“There is no mass grave. Women were not abused by nuns in the Magdalene Laundries. And Philomena's son was never taken from her and then sold to the highest bidder.”

Nothing to see here except anti-Catholic bias. Forget the recent UN The Committee Against Torture recommendations. You can all go home now, folks.

The fact is Donohue doesn’t know if there is or isn’t a mass infant grave at Tuam, of course. No one does yet. Eight hundred missing infant graves would indicate that there is a high probability of finding one (or even several). Only time and a thorough investigation will tell however.

Cannily, Donohue doesn't try to prove his own claim, he just makes it and crosses his fingers.

“…Let's assume that a mass grave of dead babies on the grounds of the Tuam home were found,” he writes. “This would be cause for harsh criticism.”

Well yes it would. But what is the news that 796 Irish infants died and were forgotten in just one Catholic run institution over three decades if not also a cause for harsh criticism? Nowhere in his 16 page compendium does Donohue acknowledge that fact.

His reluctance didn’t matter, of course. Within 24 hours his broadside had circled the globe, presumably hoodwinking whoever wanted to be - or was susceptible to it.

But the unsettling math of Tuam can not be airbrushed. Nor can the sheer callousness of leaving all those lives unmarked and unmourned.

In the weeks after those horrifying figures were released worldwide the silence from even the most pugnacious corners of Catholic commentary was uncharacteristically deafening.

It even took Donohue weeks, but on Monday there he was back doing what he does best: publishing a scattershot summary and hoping it would dazzle where it could not defend.

In retail they call this approach bait and switch, it’s surprising to see it utilized in defense of religion.

But bluster and bravado are no proof against hard facts. The truth is Donohue’s silence said far more and lasted longer.

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