21 January 2021, The Tablet

Archbishop appeals for information on mother and baby homes

Archbishop appeals for information on mother and baby homes

Archbishop Eamon Martin, left.

The leader of the Irish Church has reiterated his appeal to anyone with information about mother and baby home burials to come forward so that the graves can be identified and appropriately marked by the families of the infants.

Speaking to RTE Radio 1’s This Week programme, Archbishop Eamon Martin said he expected the religious congregations who were involved in running mother and baby homes to contribute to a redress scheme which the Government is setting up.

He also accepted the church “needs to do reparation”.

“I think we can show that our apologies are sincere by being willing to contribute in any way that we can,” Archbishop Martin said and added that he believed the religious sisters were open to this.

He said a lot of people in Ireland and a lot of people in the Church were feeling “a very deep sadness” about the “very harrowing stories” in the report.

“I think we are ashamed to think of the number of vulnerable women and their unborn children and their infants who were stigmatised and shamed – excluded from their homes and families – ostracised from their parishes and communities. Essentially, they were banished by society and with all of their rights largely ignored by everyone.”

The Commission of Investigation’s report into 18 Mother and Baby Homes was published last Tuesday and was critical of families, society, the State and religious organisations’ treatment of women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage.

Asked about the lack of information on the burial locations of 923 children at Bessborough home in Co Cork, which was run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who failed to furnish the Commission with burial records or information on the infants’ graves, Archbishop Martin said, “the Sisters themselves have said that they commissioned researchers and historians over the last number of years to try to locate where people were buried.” 

Archbishop Martin said he would be “disappointed”, if having read the commission’s report, that the religious congregations were scapegoated.

“I think there is clear evidence that the day to day running of the institutions, which some of the sisters were involved in, was very harsh.”

But he stressed that the homes were subject to monitoring and inspection and oversight by the State. 

“They were commissioned by the State and by local authorities and county councils; they were expected to intervene when the rest of society had basically banished these mothers and their unborn children and their infants.”

On Sunday, the incoming Archbishop of Dublin said the Church had a responsibility to instil the values of compassion and care in the prevailing attitudes of wider society but in so many instances failed to do so. 

Speaking in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Archbishop-elect Dermot Farrell said the report showed that mother and baby homes provided a harsh refuge when few families were willing to provide any refuge.  

He acknowledged that the behaviour of some religious who operated these institutions was “wrong, and a shameful betrayal of trust” and added, “As a society and a church, we lost sight of the gift that is every child.”

Former president of Ireland, Professor Mary McAleese, said the report showed how “easy it was to sacrifice women and children to narrow, ludicrous notions of sexual morality”.

Speaking to the RTE Radio’s Brendan O'Connor programme she said, “The Church was most complicit, alongside a subservient State” and while “all the Christian churches” were implicated in the report, it was the Catholic Church which “imposed a culture of fear among uneducated people”.

In a statement, the Association of Catholic Priests said that while societal and familial attitudes played a part in the abuse and oppression of so many women, they fully agreed with Bishop Paul Dempsey of Achonry’s response in which he said we “must face the difficult reality that it was a society which was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church”.

The ACP also endorsed Bishop Dempsey’s comment that “the church had a distorted view of sexuality that seemed obsessive” and that it had exercised “an unhealthy power over people’s lives, especially in the most intimate areas of life”.

The association, which represents over 1,000 Irish priests, added that the report highlighted two very damaging aspects of Catholic teaching and practice – “an underlying, but enormously influential, strain of misogyny, and a negative and oppressive attitude to sexuality, particularly in relation to women”.

Meanwhile, the Irish government has been accused of overlooking the ‘hidden’ children of priests in its response to the Commission of Investigation’s report on mother and maby Homes.

The report documents a number of cases where women ended up in mother and baby homes pregnant with a child fathered by a priest and in some incidences the women fell pregnant after they were raped by a priest.

Vincent Doyle, whose father was a catholic priest, founded Coping International, a support group for those in a similar situation. He said analysis of the Mother and Baby Homes report so far had overlooked the plight of children of priests.


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