Conspiracies & Catholicism: Nunsense

CS sanctuary crucifix2

CS sanctuary crucifix2

– Didn’t you hear about that big archaeology dig they did a decade or two back, that one that found a bunch of dead babies secretly buried near a nunnery?
– You mean the one with the babies in the septic tank?
– No…
– You mean the one in South America?
– No…
– You mean the one in Spain?
– No, the one with a monastery and a secret tunnel connecting them… Somewhere in Europe, anyway. Rome? Italy?

I’ve taken a bit of artistic license(*) with an online conversation I had recently with people  that are not prone to Conspiracy Theories, or even thinking poorly of others. We spent quite a while trying to ferret out the exact version of this story– “a recent excavation found that nuns secretly buried a lot of their illegitimate children near the nunnery”– and never did actually find one that matched the details that someone remembered. Although, we did establish that this person knew that Chick Tracks are best viewed as bad humor.

Now, the short and simple version of the answer for where this story came from is that nunneries often did nursing or other medical care. People would abandon children there. Sadly, about half of the kids born up until recently would not survive to adulthood, even if their mothers were the healthiest ones around. Thus is one of the reasons that nunneries and monasteries often had graveyards, besides caring for their own members. (Burying the dead is an act of mercy.)

Here’s the more in detail version of answers for the various ‘you means’ above.

Babies In A Septic Tank

Then we have this fairly recent bit of mangled reporting. In England, a kindly lady knew that the locals cared for a little, unmarked cemetery at what use to be a government home for unwed mothers, which was run by nuns; they knew there were seven (something) hundred. The lady was researching the nuns’ records and the government files to compile a list of names so the dead could have a little monument. A historian heard about this story from a researcher and also interviewed a man that had found bones in a stone-covered hole in the ground; at some point the historian became involved with a well-known anti-Catholic sensationalist and decided the two stories were connected. The secular media got a hold of the story…and you end up with a report that almost eight hundred babies were found in a septic tank.

The Catholic Anti-Defamation League did a very good job of collecting and correcting information on this story, although they missed Dr. McCormic’s letter to the editor, published in the Irish Times, pointing out that there is was a commonly used type of grave that (to an eight year old boy) would look a lot like a septic tank.

In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries.

South American

For this one, the country changes while the story doesn’t; a generic “secret tomb full of infants found while rebuilding an old church.” The only example that had anything close to specific was from the Snope’s message board, where someone’s brother-in-law claimed it happened in 2001 in either Chile or Argentina, and a Catholic Answers message board post from someone whose father had a street kid in Guatemala offer to show him where the nuns have their babies.

The utter lack of any details or– if it were horribly common– a single example of so much as a poorly characterized orphanage, similar to the Irish story, suggests that South America was just a handy place where one might think it’s possible for things to happen without being reported on in the daily news. (Well, before the Pope was chosen from the area. You know that if there was even a slightly plausible story, it would be all over the place, just from sensational appeal.)

Spain

Babies found in walls during renovation. I haven’t actually been able to find any sources beyond “things said to tourists” for this one, but there’s a very probable source for its origination. Spain has some really impressive (and possibly freaky– click with care) ossuaries. It’s reasonable to expect that even churches that don’t reach the level of a building with piles of skeletons are going to be used by tour guides. Notably, this version I found as many mentions of just “bones” as I did “babies,” even when specifically looking for claims of dead infants.

Secret Death Tunnels

This story is a surprisingly common theme — one that even anti-Catholic sites have people mentioning that they heard when they lived in places like Italy, and have recognized them as urban legends. Thankfully, I finally found a specific source for this one!

Pervy Anti-Catholic horror stories.(**)

No, really, let me quote the linked Catholic Answers Magazine story on the history:

In this tidal wave of anti-Catholic literature, books detailing convent horror stories became enormously popular in the United States in the 1830s, and most of these were imported from England. Works such as Female Convents and Secrets of the Nunneries Exposed established the common elements of anti-Catholic convent horror stories: lecherous priests, secret tunnels between seminaries and convents, and the babies who resulted from these unholy unions slaughtered and buried in the basements.

I’ll let you draw your own comparisons to more modern horror movies and their notorious tendencies involving attractive young women.  Please time to read the link in its entirety– it’s got several sad stories of mentally disturbed people being exploited, but you might need to have an idea of where to start countering some of the more basic stories.

In short, the stories of dead babies born to nuns and murdered by the same are a mixture of misunderstanding the evidence, trying to impress tourists, and sensational, attention-getting stories going back centuries.

Notes:

* – I have tried to find the original conversation that inspired this post, and I believe it was at According to Hoyt, but booger all if I can manage it; if someone else does, I’ll gladly link to the entire chain.  It would have been sometime between October and December and I think it has some wonderful examples of people looking for the truth.

** – I can sincerely say that I never would have pictured myself even thinking this phrase.

Photography: Frank Cash

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32 thoughts on “Conspiracies & Catholicism: Nunsense”

  1. A couple of years ago I took a tour booked through the US Navy base in Naples, Italy of churches in town. The tour was led by a very good guide named “Aldo”. We went beneath one church where Aldo spoke of many babies being buried there. He never came out and said it, but he alluded to the dead being the children of wayward nuns.

    Then we toured the Church of the Annunziata where mothers would put their newborns into a dark slot within a wooden turntable in a convent wall, turn the crank and leave there often sick, dying and severely deformed children for the sisters inside to take care; little souls their mothers had no hope of adequately caring for. The sisters took them in – all of them. The convent also had a burial area set aside for children.

    Not knowing the surnames of the families from which the children came from, the sister’s called the orphans “Espositi”, Italian for “exposed” or “found outside”. It’s thought to be the origin of the very Italian surname “Esposito”.

    As brilliant as Aldo is, I couldn’t believe that he could not put both of these stories together, yet tourist walked away uninformed.

  2. “I believe in God : I was identify as believer our prayers of this life of Jesus Christ.”

    GRANT US YOUR PEACE, O LORD, and strengthen our faith in you, to endure so that we may live in Your Divine Interior life to accomplish what the Holy Spirit, and also to ask God to free us from our sufferings.

    Give the world the best you have in the presence of God and of those who are devotees of God, principles that must guide our lives every minute of every day Jesus said loving God is the most important of all the commandments. Good health for my family and friends is a life of faith in the Son of God we should always aspire full of overcoming power of God’s will.

    “I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered.” You are on easy life; relationship in my life is between God and myself. I thank God for the joy and comfort she has brought into my life people are prevented God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, we receive the Holy Spirit to learn about life by discipline Holy Spirit enable you to “grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviors”.

    God is the most powerful source of energy in all the dimensions of the universe. For every man who thinks and lives by thought must have his own through the ordinances of my life is to do everything to the glory of God, full of countless people who spend their whole life reminding us that most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant right to life is the foremost of all of God’s gifts to us. The young man has his own particular challenges in our pure life. ‘The Lord hath made all things for Himself and His Own glory’ (Prov. xvi, 4) God according to his word, not according to our own praiseth God for his fame or glory (Ps 145:1-7), his devotion and adherence to his God.

    It through his whole work of making himself present and manifesting himself; through his spirit, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me” (Is 44:21). Of course these findings do not prove that it is impossible to stop believing in God. God’s glory in God’s greatness and minuteness of care. Mind you, given a right understanding of Israel in relation to the world you are inexcusable, chance in the present world, that he who find himself led me into an interesting journey – I most definitely did not. Strengthen our weak human wills and I appreciate him even more for making this project I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith or he will have incorrectly identified “What do you know about the will of God”.

    For a while now, I’ve felt as if Jesus led me for your God given understandimg in my life and also to let you all know that he is a God on earth. Hang in there with me, and by the end you will understand why I will and all beings that did not have Jesus is love and He has opened my heart the desire to sin and glorify him with all we do. The Eucharist, the True Presence of Jesus Christ Himself, that they will find me and to our safety. Therefore, desire ardently to know my words, love them and you will find profound communion with all my brothers and sisters in the faith, gently guide you to a complete and true repentance, represent the “life” for true Christianity, it will be easier for us to believe a Church to proclaim to the earth.

    God is faithful, for if righteousness blessed be He who has renewed all things by His love; glory to Him. Who have seen [God]? or what has he who has seen more all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive because He has mercy to us How can you not know how to pray?

    First of all, the Bible makes it clear that God has no pleasure in seeing sinners to their prayers with something more than with God; “Take Him away from my life, and all that remains is pain and sickness.”You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, we know that throughout our lives we have seen the sun rise Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all people. It was according to his mercy,–and not for any supposed works of righteousness seen in you. God has the right to do with us whatever He pleases and we may not question.

    Because He is God, the heavenly because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, As in the power of His life you do your good works, your life shines out to all who see you. We have all abide by whatever sense of right and wrong we have to believe in Him works of outward mercy “God loves all people in some ways whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20), “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. If He made one for a purpose, will He not fulfill that purpose? Then the King will say to those on his right, to the most important question at the heart because He made all things, answer of course is that God did not to be made because He has always been may be a question having no answer ‘which is still worth asking,’ to accept these works of mercy from our life.

    I know Him and trust in Him and have faith people He could call His own the power of God Himself in them and no power is greater (1 John 4:4). You are right that people defended the right of expression who loves all and considers all people. If we are able to find someone to love, who loves us back, we choose to love God. We therefore in all our associations within the people of God; tells us that if someone says “I love God” wants us to love others as we love ourselves and as He has loved us. God could have created us and made us love Him mercy or love limited as to not include the wrong moral motive; are required of certain propositions yet, there is a difference–a distinction–between those people that He loves who have abideth faithful; he should not deny himself.

    CONCLUSION:

    If it is not heartfelt, this is between God and that person, I think God wants all of us, sharing in everything, and all of our experience. So is someone who says Jesus Christ in nothing to them, something, you stop knowing anything about it. How can they hear and believe without someone talking with words by faith I believe in God, by hope I trust in God, and I love God.

    “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Because without the hope we have in God we would be filled can talk to someone about this subject without the
    conversation. I didn’t see to believe in any gods, but you in particular seemed like a logical contradiction”. After all, if they don’t believe in God why should they believe says that we must believe in the “Lord Jesus Christ”.

  3. Years back, I was reading a series of mysteries set in contemporary India, by Paul Mann. The first of these, The Burning Ghats, is set in Goa. Goa was largely converted by Portuguese missionaries centuries ago. In any case, at one point in the novel there is a passing reference to the bones of murdered babies, the offspring of priests and nuns, being buried in church walls. So the nonsense continues: same bilge, different continent.

  4. Wow! Foxfier first of all thank you for this article. I love how you pulled this all together! Secondly I have to say that I am so blessed by the editors of this site! You rock! Your integrity and patience with some of the guests as been such a blessing to see over the last couple of years that I have been reading! Thank you!

  5. When I was researching “acoustic vases” built into church walls to control acoustics, I think I ran across a few cases where people had assumed the completely empty vases were actually full of baby bones, or at least animal bones killed for occult rituals. They were pretty surprised when they pulled out the vases and found nothing but air.

    1. Sounds like when my grandfather took his boss into the basement of the local church to show him that the most interesting thing it had was the priest’s half-flask of whiskey, not an armory for when the Papist took over the neighboring towns. 😀

    2. (I should make it clear that the Father did not over indulge– and as a matter of fact he used it as part of a really effective counseling method that made for an incredibly healthy parish. If he hadn’t, I probably would not have been born.)

  6. Pingback: Little Girl Has a Message for Michelle Obama - BigPulpit.com

  7. I thank God often for the many nuns he put in my life from First Grade on, including Mother Cabrini. Mother Xavier [Bridigines]; Sister Mary Margaret, Sister Annette, Sister Aquilina [Incarnate Word]; Sister Mary Fidelis {Daughters of Charity]; Sister Domitilla [forgot her order, St. Pis X School, early 1960s-San Antonio]. These women lived their vows and the lived-daily-the Sermon on the Mount. And they not only put up with the likes of me, but they loved me. I still see Mother Cabrini often who is now well over 80 yrs old-came here as a young nun in 1952 from Ireland – a living saint. Guy McClung, San Antonio .

    1. That’s another case where the “news reports” didn’t match the reality. Only bigots believe there was evil done there.

    2. You avoid anything you don’t want to hear like it’s a deadly disease.

      Stop dragging my comment area off on wild goose chases, Phil. I’ve asked you politely multiple times. You are behaving like a troll.

    3. Do not make false accusations and stop being a bad guest– that is what those commenting here are, guests.

      You have been repeatedly asked to behave decently, and repeatedly failed to do so– in quite rude ways, including what appears to be repeated, willful slander that is vaguely related to the topic of my articles.

      You consistently fail to respond to the article, throw out accusations against those you disagree with, ignore reason and evidence and, frankly, behave in a manner I would be ashamed of in my three year old. She at least does not try to blame her behavior on others.

      If you cannot behave decently, then you are not welcome in my comment sections.

    4. Phil, be careful what you wish for. You are walking a very thin line in this discussion. Unless you can show respect for the author, disagree respectfully without calling names and attacking one’s integrity, while knowing when to agree to disagree and simply move on….we will have to ban you from future comments. We have been very tolerate with you over the years. Consider this your final warning.

    5. Respectfully, Phil, you have a long documented history commenting on this site. But lately, you have been behaving like a troll. That’s not “name calling” —Foxfier is simply identifying your behavior. Meanwhile, many credible authors, writers, journalists do not publish under their legal names on their birth certificate. Pen names do not diminish the integrity of the author….words do. Peace be with you.

    6. Phil, we are going to let you take a break from Catholic Stand for a while. That’s not say that you are banned for all eternity. Perhaps in the future you can participate again, but with more humility. Peace be with you.

    7. refusing more information on a subject is deliberate ignorance and indicates the one refusing is not a serious commentator.

    8. Any evidence for that? None. You are simply being a bigot and feigning interest in the plight of the abused. Shame.

    9. Thank you for your passionate defense of the truth, but Phil has already been banned for at least a while. (As, apparently, he dearly desires.)

      He’s been pulling this sort of make-a-random-claim-and-reject-all-opposing-evidence thing for about as long as I’ve been doing this series. Apparently he has recently decided that he has no obligation to control himself, which is confusing.

      Hopefully you’ll come back and make sure that I’m supporting what I say in future articles, though– I do try to make sure I give evidence!

    10. It’s really hard to accept that you are acting in good faith when you selectively remove that the women were not KEPT there, and the supporting paragraph shortly below:

      James M. Smith concurs with this analysis. “In the nineteenth century,” he writes, “regardless of how they entered these institutions, it was the women themselves who made the decision to stay.” Why? “With little or no social welfare system to fall back on, her choices were limited to entering the county home, begging on the streets, or possibly resorting to prostitution.” So while the laundries were not exactly a hotel, they sure beat the available options. The most common alternative was the workhouse, but as the Report points out, such institutions were explicitly “designed to be grim and foreboding places in order to deter all but the most desperate from seeking refuge there.” Others wound up in the “lunatic” asylums, which were even worse.

      The lady doing the study was using a very strict definition of “voluntary.” It excluded those who were sent there by their families, or because they were unable to take care of themselves and it was better than the insane asylums.
      *******
      Please stop dragging the comment section off of the article.

    11. Andre B, we appreciate your participation here. However, you are walking a very thin line also in your combox etiquette. You are offering misleading statements and misquotes. Please cite your sources. You don’t have to agree with anyone on this site, but you do have to show respect for others’ opinions and perspective. FYI – applauding someone who was banned for acting inappropriately is like asking to be banned also. Consider this your warning.

    12. Diane,

      I feel caught between a desire to respect Foxfier’s wishes to keep the discussion on topic and a desire to not let misunderstandings…stand.

      You are offering misleading statements and misquotes. Please cite your sources.

      I certainly have not misquoted anything. If you feel I have mislead anyone, please explain. I have made edits to my earlier comment to cite the source – though since I was quoting from a previously cited article, I figured people would recognize the source. Still, sloppiness on my part, I suppose.

      FYI – applauding someone who was banned for acting inappropriately is like asking to be banned also.

      FYI – asking that a standard be fairly applied is not the same thing as applauding somebody. Phil cited a source to back up a point he was making. In response, somebody simply cited Donahue’s post, without commentary or attempt to explain why their source should be given preference. Phil then cited a second source to back up his original point. At this point, for whatever reason, Phil was then accused of disregarding evidence just because he didn’t like it. To an observer, it seems inexplicable why he was singled out in this way, let alone how we know his sources are inaccurate.

      *******

      Apologies to Foxfier for keeping this going. Reserving the right to clarify if Diane cares to explain how she felt I mislead, I’ll let this be my last post on the topic.

    13. Respectfully, Andre, I don’t wish to continue a litigation over authenticity. This discussion has gone irreparably off the rails. Any further explanation on my part is merely fueling the alright out of control forest fire.

    14. Hm, I think we have a comment malfunction… According to our management software, Phil’s trolling and all the comments under it are gone, on the “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink” philosophy.

    15. cestusdei, one of the moderators did delete your comments from this discussion. I just went through your comments that are logged in our control panel. You should be thankful that someone deleted the comment you referenced. It was blatant grounds for being banned. Name-calling like that is not tolerated. Warning…..

    16. In other words you are not interested in the whole truth, but only what agrees with your own bias. That’s what I thought.

  8. If anyone wonders– I lost the conversation because I start writing these things every time I get an idea, and this one got started when I didn’t have internet but was still chewing over the information. Then I left it to set for several weeks. I don’t even remember what computer I was on.

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