John Waters, the Irish journalist who is speaking at a Notre Dame conference this weekend on what he calls the “Hoax ....of the Holocaust of Tuam,” is no stranger to controversy.
He inflamed the debate in Ireland over gay marriage, calling it a “satire” and "potentially destructive of the very fabric of Irish society.”
It is now the law and Irish society seems just fine, liberated even.
He also made clear his stance against gay couples adopting and argued that depression was not a legitimate illness. (Strange coming from a man who once was Sinead O’Connor’s partner, the poster child for, sadly, depression and illness.)
His latest act, which takes him to America and Notre Dame, is attacking the reality that up to 800 babies and young children, who died of malnutrition and neglect, lie buried in unmarked mass graves in the grounds of the old Tuam Mother and Babies home in County Galway. He calls the story a “hoax.”
It is a story that has traveled worldwide, including a majestic piece by Dan Barry in The New York Times two weeks ago, which laid out the tragic truth and the cost in ruined lives around what happened in the Tuam babies home between 1925 and 1961.
Waters’ only response seems to be just show him the bodies, otherwise it is all a hoax.
Why, I wonder does he think the skeletons of the poor children are important?
Their deaths are well documented, their sad little lives written down in countless ledgers along with the reasons they died. Does he think they escaped, perhaps spirited away by the fairies? The fact that they lived short, tragic and miserable years and died tragic deaths is indisputable.
Some were sold illegally to America, but there is no doubting the vast majority lived and died in terrible conditions created by the Irish church and state. He apparently will argue against that stark reality at the Notre Dame conference today.
It would surely have behooved the organizers of that conference to allow a balancing voice, perhaps Mari Steed, herself an orphan adopted to America, who uncovered the Magdalen Laundry hell holes, and who can speak directly to this subject.
Waters is no stranger to hard-right positions. He told the Sunday Independent in 2014 after his hardline views on gays became known that "I won't go into Dublin city centre at night. When you have that kind of toxicity generated out of nothing, what are you going to do? It's not worth it." He also stated he had been accused of homophobia.
How did Waters earn such opprobrium from so many people?
His views on gay couples adopting a child for one:
Questioning gay adoption, he drew parallels with two brothers taking paternal responsibility for a child. "If two brothers who love each other in a particular way decide 'we would like to adopt a child' this society would regard that as an absurdity, they would laugh them out of court.
"Yet if two men who are involved in a sexual relationship go forward to adopt a child we are told now, that should be okay? I find that really hard to understand, intellectually. Why is it that it is okay but it is not okay for two brothers or two straight men? I think that's a legitimate point."
What on earth is legitimate about it? The statistics show that children adopted by gay couples are actually better adjusted in many cases than kids who are taken by hetero couples. Loving somebody does not require the proper sexual equipment, merely the time, affection and patience that a good parent of whatever orientation can give.
He described as 'satirical' the fight to introduce same sex marriage, calling it a peripheral issue in Ireland when the traditional family unit remains so broken. It passed by a massive vote in a 2015 referendum.
He told the Sunday Independent in 2014 that "there is something fundamentally wrong to go off then and to come up with a peripheral issue, which gay marriage is in my view, and to deal with that first, when the raw bloody core of our family law and our family life in this country . . . that is satire.
It is a mockery of reality to actually deal with something so peripheral and marginal, when there is such a wound at the heart of our culture. So I make no apologies for calling it a satire. It is satirical."
It is a very strange use of the word. So couples who are gay are not deserving of adopting a child because their issue is not important enough in the grand scheme of marriage breakdowns? When would be the right time to allow them? When hell froze over? When the cows came home?
It is hard to see any logical linkage there, nor is there much sense in his insistence on using the word “buggery” when speaking of gays.
He told the Sunday Independent, "People are selectively finding things offensive to suit themselves. But what is so offensive about the word buggery? I mean it's a phenomenon, it's a word to describe a physical function. My definition is anal penetration by men. It is very clear what it means. It is a term to describe a physical function, end of story. Why is it offensive? If the act is not offensive to people, why should the word to describe it be offensive?"
By these lights we should still be calling black people the “N” word since that word too was once widely used even by presidents and kings and everyone knows what it means. What Waters knows well is that the term “ buggery’ was used as a criminal term in pre-gay rights days. He is being too clever by half.
Waters admitted at the time the controversy over gay marriage and adoption had made him lose weight and lose sleep.
In his next sentence, however, he denied he was depressed as such a condition did not exist.
Asked if he had become depressed as a result of the national backlash, he said, ”There's no such thing. It's an invention. It's bullshit," he said, "it's a cop out."
Kind of like his own cop out when faced with the issues of proven truth and people’s rights.
I think the Notre Dame conference organizers erred badly in not having an opposing voice on the Tuam babies who, let’s face it, never had anyone to stand up for them either. Their sad attempt at dealing with this, arguing that Waters was a “humane”man is a strange one given his wish to deny others their rights.
Waters, however, is in good company with Bill “Looney Tunes” Donohue of the Catholic League who has never met an episcopal butt he didn't want to kiss and have all venal and mortal sins forgiven. It is sad company for Waters to end up in.