AP Posts Long Correction on Ireland Children's-Mass-Grave Horror Story

On June 3, Shawn Pogatchnik of the Associated Press picked up on a horror story from western Ireland: “a researcher found records for 796 young children believed to be buried in a mass grave beside a former orphanage for the children of unwed mothers” in County Galway. That sounds like a terrible story, if true.

AP and Pogatchnik somehow skipped over Britain's Channel 4 reporting in March on a modern-day horror from Britain's Channel 4, which discovered the beyond abhorrent practice of 10 National Health Service hospitals incinerating over 15,000 bodies of unborn babies from miscarriages and abortions. Now, the old Ireland story came up riddled with errors. AP posted a long correction on Friday, largely focused on how they mischaracterized the Catholic practices and teaching:

In stories published June 3 and June 8 about young children buried in unmarked graves after dying at a former Irish orphanage for the children of unwed mothers, 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.

The June 3 story also contained an incorrect reference to the year that the orphanage opened; it was 1925, not 1926.

It sounds like much of this story should have waited a few days for more fact-checking.  It's not like the story was current and quickly changing. Speculating about whether corpses were baptized might seem a little reckless. In fact, the liberal Catholic magazine America inquired to AP after it explored the record, spurring the correction. 

The original story packed a wallop and the wallop was directed right in the face of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy:


The Catholic Church in Ireland is facing fresh accusations of child neglect after a researcher found records for 796 young children believed to be buried in a mass grave beside a former orphanage for the children of unwed mothers.

The researcher, Catherine Corless, says her discovery of child death records at the Catholic nun-run home in Tuam, County Galway, suggests that a former septic tank filled with bones is the final resting place for most, if not all, of the children...

Elderly locals recalled that the children attended a local school - but were segregated from other pupils - until they were adopted or placed, around age 7 or 8, into church-run industrial schools that featured unpaid labor and abuse. In keeping with Catholic teaching, such out-of-wedlock children were denied baptism and, if they died at such facilities, Christian burial.

It is well documented that throughout Ireland in the first half of the 20th century, church-run orphanages and workhouses often buried their dead in unmarked graves and unconsecrated ground, reflecting how unmarried mothers - derided as "fallen women" in the culture of the day - typically were ostracized by society, even their own families.

Records indicate that the former Tuam workhouse's septic tank was converted specifically to serve as the body disposal site for the orphanage.

On April 25, AP did offer a brief report on fetal tissue being burned for waste in Oregon headlined "Company Stopped from Accepting Abortion Waste," which then referred to the British horror story:

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - County commissioners gave final approval Thursday to an order to stop an incinerator in Oregon from receiving medical waste until procedures are in place to ensure no fetal tissue is burned to generate power.

While taking the action, Marion County commissioners Sam Brentano and Janet Carlson said they were horrified to learn that the Marion County Resource Recovery Facility in rural Brooks might be burning medical waste that includes fetal tissue to generate electricity. Both strongly oppose abortions.

"We're going to get the bottom of it," Carlson said. "I want to know who knew, when they knew, how long they had known this was going on."

Brentano, however, noted that the county ordinance that sets the parameters for what can be accepted at the waste-to-energy plant allows for all human tissue.

"No rule or law has been broken, but there's an ethical standard that's been broken," he said.

The decision came about a month after reporters in the United Kingdom discovered that health authorities there used fetal remains to generate power at medical facilities.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis