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The Catholic church and the theft and sale of babies

This second instalment of a report by PETER FROST into church abuse looks at a terrible scandal in the Roman Catholic church

AT last the Vatican and the Pope are beginning to admit the worldwide scandal of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. They still have a way to go to reveal just how many secrets are buried in the cesspit that is the church’s history.

One major disgrace that needs to be admitted is the vast array of cases of the church stealing and selling babies.

In Ireland the story has been well known for some time. The 2013 film Philomena with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan bought the scandal to a wide audience.

Now from Spain horrendous facts are being revealed of huge numbers of babies stolen from families by Catholics on the orders of fascist dictator Franco but continuing even after his death.

Chile too has its share of babies stolen by the Catholic church. In Argentina too, babies were stolen from families considered to be too poor or too subversive.

Only now in many other South American countries brave investigative journalists just beginning to uncover horrifically similar histories.

It is no surprise that Catholic cardinals in Africa are telling anyone who will listen that nothing like this is happening in their dioceses or ever have in the past.

However these are the same people who preached that condoms spread the HIV/Aids virus, so truth has never been their forte.

Not surprisingly the Pope and the Vatican are refusing to speak about this stealing of babies. They are even instructing nuns and priests to refuse to give evidence in court.

So let’s take a look at some of the cases we do know about.

After the Spanish civil war General Franco and his fascist rebel government decided to punish those who had fought against them.

Anybody who held opposing viewpoints were punished. Franco declared his enemies undesirables and banned them from raising their own children.

Top of the list, of course, were republicans, Marxists, communists, socialists, trade unionists, indeed anyone who had dared to defend the legitimate government against Franco and his fascist rebels or accept his fascist ideology.

Franco went much further, ruling that anyone who lived beneath a specific wage, the poor, were not fit to raise a child.

The job of taking those babies away from single mothers and families who didn’t fit into his idea of ideal citizens was given to an efficient network of priests and nuns within the Catholic church.

They also added any single mothers to their targets for baby theft.

An amazing 300,000 babies were stolen from their parents between 1939 and the 1990s in Spain.

Spanish fascists believed in eugenics. They linked dissident thinking to mental inferiority. Military psychiatrist Antonio Vallejo-Nagera, who led Franco’s office of psychological research, put forward the thesis.

Vallejo-Nagera’s unethical behaviour and treatment of his victims earned him the sobriquet “the Spanish Mengele.” Mengele was, of course, the Nazi doctor who carried out illegal, unethical and often fatal experiments in Nazi concentration camps.

Vallejo-Nagera argued that political beliefs in left-wing families could infect children and damage the mental health of future generations.

He also believed that all women had an atrophied intelligence and their only real role in life was to procreate, unless of course they became nuns.

These thoroughly misogynist and reactionary ideas go a long way to explain the class profile of those who were to become the illegal adopters of the stolen babies.

They were married Catholic women raised in Catholic countries who were unable to have children of their own. Church and social pressure to become mothers was extreme. Having children was seen a Catholic woman’s duty.

What started as an ideologically driven plan to purge Spain of anti-Franco dissidents and the poor soon developed into a lucrative business. The church found it could make huge amounts of money selling the stolen babies.

The system was easy. Newborn children were taken away from their mothers without consent. Nuns and priests lied to the mothers, telling them their child had been born dead or had died soon after.

Children would be registered as the biological child of the so-called adopting family, who would pay large sums of money for their new child.

The lies and deception were mind-boggling. In one truly miraculous case, an 89-year-old woman was encouraged by a priest and a doctor to fake a pregnancy so she could receive a stolen newborn as her own. The priest gave the woman a padded belt to make her look pregnant — at 89.

The Catholic church and many of the Catholic clergy found this business in stealing babies so lucrative that they were not going to let a little thing like the death of dictator Franco and the collapse of his fascist state end their profitable crime.

The illicit network carried on long after Franco’s death in 1975 — baby-stealing would survive until the 1990s. Evidence of the extent of the network is still unclear. The Spanish Catholic church will not let anyone look at its files and does not help any official investigations.

Legal action was never taken in the past. Police dropped the cases because of the high-ranking people involved: politicians, lawyers, doctors and, of course, priests, bishops and even cardinals.

In Ireland the baby-stealing business was often based around Catholic institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries — the church liked to describe them as homes for fallen women.

These were young women who became pregnant outside of marriage, or whose male family members complained about their “wanton” behaviour.

Hard work was part of their lives here in these large church-owned commercial laundries. The young women were slave labour. These laundries operated well into the 20th century — the last one closed in 1996. Yet on a visit to Ireland last summer Pope Francis denied he had ever heard of Magdalene Laundries.

The nuns who ran the laundries sold fit and healthy babies for large amounts of money to Irish or US Catholics for adoption.

The nuns put enormous pressure on women never to look for their children after they lost them. They told all sorts of lies — that it was a mortal sin; they’d burn in hell; it was illegal to try and find their baby.

Catholic unmarried mothers and baby homes also had high infant mortality. Huge burial sites are being uncovered where the remains of thousands of babies are buried in unmarked graves.

One pit at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway contains the remains of over 800 foetuses and babies.

In Chile too the Catholic church had welcomed the US-backed coup that bought Pinochet and his fascists to power in the late 1970s.

Now the investigations have discovered priests stole newborn babies from single mothers here too, as in Ireland and Spain,

In dozens of cases unmarried women who became pregnant were pressured by priests to give up their child for adoption. Those who refused were anaesthetised during delivery only to be told after waking that the child had died.

The healthy babies stolen from their biological mothers went to traditional Chilean Catholic married couples often in return for a large donation to the Catholic church.

The gradually emerging picture seems to be the same worldwide. It took a huge campaign to get the Pope and the Catholic church to even acknowledge the vast amount of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

It will take a long and vigorous campaign to get the Catholic church to even admit the huge bundle of sins that is the baby-stealing scandal of the Catholic church worldwide.

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