Brendon O'Neill writes a good article concerning the new Myth of Church Abuse in Ireland: The Tuam Tank. The media phenomena over the Tuam Tank has taken on a life of its own, and constitutes a case study of how narrative preference trumps factual truth, or, as O'Neill himself says, For proof of the maxim that ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’, look no further than the Tuam 800 dead babies story." The media bit and swallowed the story and pushed it around the world before some elements of truth managed to make an appearance. The truth is far less inflammatory or satisfying for those who hate the Church.
Some of the facts can be reconstructed like this. A researcher into the Tuam Mother and Baby Home run by nuns between 1925 and 1961 and noted that 796 deaths were registered by the nuns who ran the home. She further noted that in 1975 two boys discovered an old septic tank on the grounds, and breaking in, saw some skeletons. A vague recounting of these two facts were posted on facebook, and, voila, instant media storm. 800 baby skeletons flushed down a toilet into a septic tank.
This story carried on much to the confusion of the researcher. She noted that the children who died might have been buried in unmarked graves (not unusual when there is no family to pay for the headstones) and that some hay have been buried in the septic tank which, after no longer being used for its original purpose after 1937, may have been used as a crypt. At no point did the researcher use the word "dumped" to describe how the bodies were disposed.
One last point: There is not and has not been an excavation of the site. Any and all claims of what has been found there are based on no evidence- as in zero, nada, nil- whatsoever.
But that hasn't stopped many church bashers from coming out and making comparisons to gulags and concentration camps. When the facts finally staggered in late for the party, revealing that pretty much everything in the news is wrong, or, in many cases, flat out lies, the bashers take an interesting defence: These may be lies, but they are good lies. It is a good tactic on their part, for it has been used time and again. When Kathy O’Beirne wrote an account of her life in a Magdalene laundry, detailing abuse as part of the daily life there, she enjoyed great popularity, which was scarcely diminished when it was proven to be a fraud: she was never in one of the laundries. Her defenders said that her book, while not truthful, had been helpful to the sufferers of abuse from the laundries. When a government commission looked into the laundries they found zero- as in zip, nil nada- evidence of even a single case of sexual abuse in the laundries. In fact, the report writers were astonished that there even some women who claimed to fond memories of their time there. But still the belief of the laundries as a place of horrific abuse remains in the minds of many.
Similarly, an Irish government inquest into claims of thousands upon thousands of rapes of boys in residential schools found ultimately, 68 cases- not all of them proven- between 1914 and 1999. The sixty eight cases are a horrible number- there should never have been one- but it is still far from thousands. However, as in the case of the laundries, many remember the claims of thousands, and think it accurate. Many of those who know differently still say it was just to make the claim of thousands, for it drew attention to the problem and brought help to those who suffered. It was a lie, they say, but it was a good one.
These lies have been around for some time. We could include Al Gore tacking on a zero to scientist's estimate of how high the seas may rise, or Rigoberta Menchu's almost entirely fictional autobiography, (for which she won the Nobel prize and which, when revealed as a fraud, the committee that gave her the award refused to strip her of it, because, even though the actual story was a fake, it revealed the greater truth of the situation of native peoples in Central America- in short, it was a good lie). The Right also has its own lies for truth, say, for instance "Iraq has weapons of Mass Destruction".
For those of us who try and defend the Church against bashers who wield their 'facts' against us we are often stuck with one of the worst defenses possible: It wasn't that bad. Take the residential school abuse. It wasn't in the thousands. It wasn't even a hundred. It wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. But it was still horrific. It should never, ever have happened, not even once. to say it wasn't that bad seems callous, uncaring. It is practically an admission that there are such things as acceptable casualties, when there isn't. Not ever. Not for this. You try and tell someone that the abuse wasn't that bad, that there were far fewer numbers than reported involved, and you will almost certainly be told "I don't give a damn about what the numbers were!" But what other defence is there?
Or the Tuam tank: Once again, the facts are far less damning than the narrative, but it is hard to defend those numbers, or the place where some bodies were found. It just looks so bad, the visceral reaction is understandable.
Why do these lies get such traction? In part, it is because people are suckers. Rigoberta Menchu travelled to Paris where she wrote her 'autobiography' with the help of a French feminist Marxist scholar. Together they wrote a book that told scholars of the feminist and Marxist persuasion that their theories were all true, and here were the facts to back it up. The scholars swallowed it whole, because it told them what they always knew to be true. They put it on course lists and used it to help indoctrinate a new generation of Marxist whatevers, and the book remains there today, either because the professors don't know it's fake, or because they don't just care. They know that it is true, even though it lies.
SO it is in Ireland. Everyone there knows the Church was rotten to the core, and will snap up any story that tells them so. And when that story is disprove, they move on to the next one, which they believe as further evidence of the corruption of the Church. It is like someone looking at pictures of flying hubcaps for proof of UFOs. Each photo in an of itself proves nothing, but there are so many that there just has to be something going on, right? Each photo is a fake, but altogether they can't all be fakes, right? Something has to be true in there somewhere.
And so they believe, because they already knew they were right, because the 'evidence' tells them that they were right. They believe that because they want to believe it. They believe because they won't believe anything else, regardless of all evidence. And if it turns out someone lied, they lied with good intention, because it is still true. After all, it has all these lies to support it. All these people wouildn't be lying if there wasn't some grain of truth behind it all. There has to be something to it.