Irish sister, archbishop apologise for historical treatment of unwed mothers

An angel and statue of Mary are pictured at a cemetery in Tuam, Ireland, where the bodies of nearly 800 infants were uncovered at the site of a former Catholic home for unmarried mothers and their children. The photo was taken Jan. 12, 2021, the day a commission investigating the treatment of women in such homes released its report. (CNS photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters)

DUBLIN (CNS) – At least one order of Irish nuns and the primate of all Ireland welcomed a report from a judicial inquiry into mother-and-baby homes and acknowledged the Church failed to live up to its own values.

The Sisters of Bon Secours ran St Mary’s home in Tuam from 1925 until 1961. It was among 18 homes for unmarried mothers and their children cited by Judge Yvonne Murphy in her January 12 report; she said the homes showed a lack of compassion.

A Commission of Investigation spent five years investigating the treatment of unmarried mothers in state-funded Church-run homes and concluded that the blame for their “harsh treatment” rests primarily with their families, but that both the Church and state condoned this.

In a statement, Sister Eileen O’Connor, area leader of the congregation, acknowledged that “our Sisters of Bon Secours were part of this sorrowful history”.

“We did not live up to our Christianity when running the home,” Sister O’Connor said.

The report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters found that “Ireland was a cold harsh environment for many, probably the majority, of its residents during the earlier half of the period under remit”. The report said that Ireland was “especially cold and harsh for women.”

The responsibility for the “harsh treatment” of unmarried mothers “rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families,” the report said.

The commission stated that the mistreatment of unmarried mothers “was supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the state and the churches.” At the same time, the commission found that “it must be acknowledged that the institutions under investigation provided a refuge – a harsh refuge in some cases – when the families provided no refuge at all.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, head of the Irish bishops’ conference, welcomed the report and unreservedly apologised to the survivors and all who were personally affected.

The inquiry was established after a local historian, Catherine Corless, discovered death certificates for almost 800 infants at St Mary’s in Tuam, but no burial records. A public outcry ensued after the remains of hundreds of babies were found in a mass grave.

(CNS Photo): An angel and statue of Mary are pictured at a cemetery in Tuam, Ireland, where the bodies of nearly 800 infants were uncovered at the site of a former Catholic home for unmarried mothers and their children.

 

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