There have been two new reports in the past two weeks on inhumane crimes perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church or Church institutions. The first involves the discovery that at least ten boys in the Netherlands were castrated in Catholic psychiatric hospitals to “get rid of homosexuality.” This occurred in the 1950’s, and their story has only recently surfaced.
The one boy for whom details are known at this point was named Henk Heithuis. He lived in a Catholic boarding home as a child. When he reported to the police that priests had sexually abused him, he was sent to a Church-run psychiatric hospital, and was castrated at the age of 20. From the New York Times report:
“He was strapped to a bed,” Mr. Rogge said, describing Mr. Heithuis’s statement. “In one stroke, his scrotum was cut out. Then he was taken to an infirmary to rest and recover. Then the other boys received the same treatment. He could hear them screaming.”
The Dutch government was apparently aware that this sort of thing was going on, but did nothing to stop it. There’s plenty of blame to go around here, but in a minute I’ll come back to why it is relevant that the Church was involved.
The second report is on the terrible and (apparently) not uncommon practice of baby trafficking in numerous countries across the globe. In Australia, Spain, Ireland, America, and Canada thousands or hundreds of thousands of babies were stolen from their (usually single) mothers at the moment of birth, and sold to adoptive couples considered “more fit” to raise a child. Some mothers were drugged and weary after giving birth, and signed their children away without having any idea what they were doing. Others were coerced by priests, nuns, social workers, and doctors into giving up their child after being told that they were unfit to care for them. Some mothers were told that their baby had died, but that they could not see the body.
Catholic institutions were heavily involved in the crimes. One Canadian law firm in Quebec is filing a class-action law suit against the Church accusing them of “kidnapping, fraud and coercion to force unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption.” An attorney involved is quoted as saying, “The beliefs the Catholic Church (in Quebec) had about premarital sex and the judgmental approach the church had, made it particularly aggressive in pressuring women into putting their children up for adoption.”
This report aggregates the stories of baby trafficking from several countries over several decades of time, but I recall reading about when these stories first broke in several of their respective countries.
There was the news out of Ireland in 2009:
Philomena was one of thousands of Irish women sent to convents in the 1950s and 60s, taken away from their homes and families because the Catholic church said single mothers were moral degenerates who could not be allowed to keep their children.
And then their babies were stolen and sold to “practicing Catholics.”
There was the news out of Spain in 2011. The baby-taking began as a political plot by dictator Francisco Franco in the 1930’s, to have the children of dissidents reassigned to more favorable caretakers. Years later, even without Franco’s direct coercion the practice continued. Doctors and nurses, many of whom were nuns, took children from obstetric wards and sold them to adoptive parents for the equivalent of $8,000.
Many of the women who believe their children were stolen were unmarried at the time, a shocking breach of social norms during the strict years of the Catholic Franco regime. Journalist Natalia Junquera has been investigating the cases for a series that the national newspaper El País is publishing this month. “From what I’ve seen, the most important motive was ideological,” she says. “Nuns and priests who simply decided that the child would be better off with families they trusted than with the ones to which they had been born.” The thefts are believed to have continued into the early 1980s.
One estimate says that up to 300,000 babies were stolen over a period of 40-50 years.
Also in 2011 was the report out of Australia: “It is believed at least 150,000 Australian women had their babies taken against their will by some churches and adoption agencies between the 1950s and 1970s.”
Juliette Clough is one of the women who says she was forced to give up her baby at a Catholic-run hospital in Newcastle in 1970.
She was 16 at the time and says she was alone, afraid and desperate.
“My ankles were strapped to the bed, they were in stirrups and I was gassed, I had plenty of gas and they just snatched away the baby,” Ms Clough said.
“You weren’t allowed to see him or touch him, anything like that, or hold him and it was just like a piece of my soul had died. And it’s still dead.”
And so on.
From the introduction to this post, you can tell that I mean to highlight the part that Catholic institutions and members of the Church played in these crimes. First, a disclaimer: it is not just Catholics who are to blame. Societal judgement of unwed mothers and promiscuous women was high, perhaps among non-Catholics as well. And as is evident from some of the articles above, the local governments who should have protected their citizens against such atrocities often turned a blind eye. This is most likely the result of incompetence, corruption, and the unquestioned assumption that the work of the Church must be beyond reproach.
But what must be pointed out here is that many members of the Church, including priests and nuns, were involved, and they were not acting on their own, but were part of organized schemes run by their organizations that succeeded in stealing hundreds of thousands of babies from their mothers. They did it for money. They did it because of ideology – because unwed mothers were sluts and deserved what was coming to them, and because these mothers’ babies would be so much better off raised by the fine, upstanding parents to whom they were sold. They did it to punish boys for being gay and for reporting priests for sexual abuse. Members of the Church and Catholic institutions acted criminally and inhumanly, and the point here is that these facts contradict everything the Catholic Church claims to be about.
The Pope in his speeches is constantly lecturing us on the morality of our actions. He represents an institution who claims to know for certain what is right and what is wrong, with no room for compromise, because the creator of the universe has said so. Yet here we have proof positive that whatever they believe about morality, members of the Church do not act any better than any other believer or nonbeliever on earth. Castrating boys and stealing babies! And these are only the most recent scandals to be uncovered. Add them to the list along with myriad sexual abuse cases (and coverups), and forced labor camps.
One need only look at the Church’s response in the battle over contraceptive coverage in America to see this moral arrogance in evidence. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is all up in arms, writing letters about the infringement of their religious freedom and having them read at mass all over the nation. No doubt they are spending considerable sums of money lobbying for their right to impinge on women’s health (the USCCB spent $26.6 million on advocacy and lobbying in 2009). They claim to be concerned because they believe (ludicrously) that contraception is immoral. They want us to believe they are simply doing what they think is right. But they did not do right by those boys whom they castrated. They did not do right by the hundreds of thousands of mothers whose babies they stole. They did not do right by the women they imprisoned for breaking the Church’s sexual rules. They did not do right by the tens of thousands of children they sexually abused. Not only did they commit these crimes, but they failed to report them, and in many cases actively covered them up. There simply is no evidence that the Catholic Church is interested in doing right. Not when they have something to lose, such as power or privilege. And they lecture us on morality?
This will not do.