On Friday afternoon, the Associated Press published a lengthy correction on a story from earlier this month about recently unearthed records that showed 796 children were buried in a mass grave outside an old Irish orphanage for the children of unwed mothers.
The AP correction acknowledged four errors including that it “incorrectly reported that the children had not received Roman Catholic baptisms” and “that Catholic teaching at the time was to deny baptism and Christian burial to the children of unwed mothers.”
AP spokesman Paul Colford told Business Insider Sunday that the mistakes were primarily the result of “editorial errors that included unfortunate jumps to flawed conclusions.” Colford also described how this resulted in the false claim the children had not been baptized.
“AP was aware that Irish priests did sometimes refuse to baptize children if the parents could not pledge to raise the children as Catholics, and that those children were denied burial in marked graves in Catholic cemeteries,” Colford said. “Here, we incorrectly made the leap that a similar logic applied to the children of unwed mothers. (As it was, Irish news media also were reporting the same that the babies had not been baptized.)”
According to the AP, documents subsequently showed “many children at the orphanage were baptized.” AP also noted that, while some children of unwed mothers may have been denied baptisms by the Catholic church “at times” during the early 20th century, “it was not church teaching.”
In addition to those errors, the correction said AP incorrectly described the orphanage as having opened in 1926 when it actually opened a year earlier. The AP story also initially quoted a researcher who said they believed the children were buried in an old septic tank. In the correction, AP acknowledged “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.”
Colford said the issue with the septic tank “required more of a clarification than a correction” since the researcher’s claims were not necessarily contradictory.
“A researcher first told AP that most of the remains were probably interred in a disused septic tank. Last week, the researcher said without excavation and forensic analysis there is no way of confirming that,” Colford explained. “The two statements are not contradictory, as she was expressing an opinion about what was likely true. She is now stressing that she cannot say so with certainty.”
Colford declined to comment when Business Insider asked if anyone at the organisation was disciplined as a result of the errors in this story.
“As a company policy we just don’t comment on personnel matters,” said Colford.
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