13 January 2021
I welcome the publication by the Minister for Children of the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The Report contents are a cause for shame as we are confronted in our very recent history with the scandalous way in which vulnerable women and children in our society were deprived of care and dignity and subjected to humiliation.
The Church of Jesus Christ was intended to bring hope and healing, yet it brought harm and hurt for many of these women and children. Many were left broken, betrayed and disillusioned. For them, and all of us, these revelations seriously tarnished the image of the Church. The delight and joy which we associate with the birth of a new baby instead became clouded with darkness and gloom. This was a time when single pregnant women and their children were labelled as “unmarried mothers” and “illegitimate”, and then judged, stigmatised, and ostracised by their own families, by their communities, and the Church. These attitudes were wrong and very sad. The Church failed in its responsibility to love and cherish those who were thus diminished. What this Report makes clear to me is that when the Church is not serving with compassion, it is failing. For that I am genuinely sorry. As a Church leader I apologise unreservedly.
The Tuam Children’s Home was owned by Galway County Council and operated by the Bon Secours Sisters. The Council, on behalf of the State, was responsible for the residents. While the diocese never had an administration role in the running of the Home, it had a pastoral one, in that the priests of Tuam parish served as chaplains.
While everything in the Diocesan Archives relating to the Home has been shared with the Commission, the archive does not hold any information relating to the Home’s living conditions. Nor does it give us any insight into the helplessness and suffering of these mothers who were separated from their babies either by death or adoption. Today, how can we even begin to comprehend the raw pain and psychological damage of family separation and its devastating consequences on loving mothers and on the emotional development of their children? Must we ask as to the whereabouts of the fathers? Had the Church been more forthright in acknowledging the responsibility of the men who fathered these children, the outcome for many young mothers and their children would have been very different indeed.
Through the Commission’s Interim Statement in March 2017, I was horrified to learn that they discovered many human remains at the Tuam site, which, on analysis, matched the time scale of the operation of the Home. These discoveries underline the enormous suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers.
Furthermore, the disparity which continues to exist between the Register of Deaths, and the absence of burial location records, is a critical aspect of this sad story which remains un-reconciled. This disparity is a matter of great public concern. The burial pattern in the Home in Tuam, more than any other single occurrence, has, understandably, caused the most outrage. While the Report makes for difficult reading, every step towards uncovering the complete truth regarding the burial pattern is welcome. In this way, as a society, we can take appropriate steps to heal the wounds caused, and we will be enabled to move forward together.
The Commission’s Report provides expert insight into many shameful aspects of our social history. It focuses on the State’s culture and its inter-relationships with local authorities, Church, families and individuals. I wish to pay tribute to Judge Yvonne Murphy and her team for the critical and detailed work undertaken. I would like to acknowledge the work carried out by Catherine Corless for her investigative work which has afforded dignity, justice and truth to the deceased and their families. I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of the former residents, and all who cooperated with the Commission. A continuation of this multifaceted analysis – however challenging – will assist the maturing of our society, prevent such atrocities from ever happening again, and thereby go some way in serving the common good.
Again, I acknowledge and humbly ask forgiveness for the abject failure of the Church for the pain and suffering visited on those women and their children in the Mother and Baby Homes nationally.