Action Alert!

The Tuam orphanage 'scandal' and the AP 'apology' that comes too late

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 23, 2014

The Associated Press has issued a correction for stories that ran earlier this month, reporting that several hundred babies had been buried, unbaptized, in a septic tank near an Irish orphanage. The correction reads in part:

The Associated Press incorrectly reported that the children had not received Roman Catholic baptisms; documents show that many children at the orphanage were baptized. The AP also incorrectly reported that Catholic teaching at the time was to deny baptism and Christian burial to the children of unwed mothers; although that may have occurred in practice at times it was not church teaching. In addition, in the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any.

Did you catch those two words—“if any”--at the end of that last quoted sentence? In other words the AP can’t say for sure that any babies were buried in the septic tank. (In all likelihood, it seems, a burial chamber was located adjacent to an old septic tank.)

The headlines that flashed around the world conveyed an appalling picture of heartless nuns tossing unbaptized babies into a septic tank. What part of that story was true?

Some Catholic media outlets have reported that the AP “apologized” for the earlier stories. I can’t say that I see any apology in the Correction. And the newspapers that carried that correction (if any did) probably placed it at the bottom of an inside page, without a blaring headline. For Church leaders in Ireland, the relevant question is the one that was asked by Ray Donovan, the Reagan-administration official who was cleared of felony charges: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”


For a thorough treatment of this story-- the sensationalistic media coverage, the errors that have been exposed, the background information that has been ignored, the commentators who indulged their own prejudices without regard to the truth—see Ireland’s “Mass-Grave” Hysteria, a Catholic League report by Bill Donohue.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: nix898049 - Jun. 24, 2014 6:11 PM ET USA

    Does anybody else see a kind of Black Legend parallel between this and the trashing of Pius XII's reputation as the result of a fictional play? (the Deputy)