‘A matter of great sorrow to us that babies died while under our care’ say nuns

‘They betrayed vulnerable women, themselves, their calling and the caring message of Jesus Christ’ – Archbishop

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: ‘Church-run institutions should be places where people experience the warm embrace of Jesus Christ, particularly vulnerable people, not harshness, judgementalism and disrespect.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: ‘Church-run institutions should be places where people experience the warm embrace of Jesus Christ, particularly vulnerable people, not harshness, judgementalism and disrespect.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

What happened in the mother and baby homes was “only one chapter in a shocking narrative that has gone on for some time”, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

He said everybody involved in what had happened “has to stand up” and admit their responsibility.

“Those involved – I have to say it very clearly – they betrayed vulnerable women; they betrayed themselves, their calling and they betrayed the caring message of Jesus Christ. They just have to say that should not have happened and there’s no half way of interpreting reality to try and justify that,” he told RTÉ’s Drivetime.

The commission’s inquiry may have been about what happened in the past but the survivors “live with the same trauma still today”, he said.

“Our first duty is to alleviate, let’s listen to what the survivors have said to the tribunal,” he said.

“I ask myself as a bishop ‘what went wrong within my church that allowed such a situation to continue?’ Church-run institutions should be places where people experience the warm embrace of Jesus Christ, particularly vulnerable people, not harshness, judgementalism and disrespect, and there’s so much of that in the story.”

In a statement, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin said the report showed the Church was “clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected”.

“For that, and for the long-lasting hurt and emotional distress that has resulted, I unreservedly apologise to the survivors and to all those who are personally impacted by the realities it uncovers,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon Martin noted the report said people with information about the burial of children born in the homes may not have come forward, and he appealed for them to do so.

“All burial grounds should be identified and appropriately marked so that the deceased and their families will be recognized and never be forgotten,” he said.

The report uncovered “disturbing and painful truths about our past”, and exposed the “culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing” which faced unmarried mothers and their children, he said.

“We must identify, accept and respond to the broader issues which the report raises about our past, present and future,” he said.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which owned and ran three of the largest homes – at Bessborough in Cork, Sean Ross in Roscrea, and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath – accepted “that so many women who were shunned and shamed by society did not find the support and level of care they needed and deserved at such a dreadful and painful time in their lives”.

They said it was “a matter of great sorrow to us that babies died while under our care”.

“We sincerely regret that so many babies died particularly in regard to Bessborough in the 1940s. We also want to recognise the dreadful suffering and loss experienced by mothers,” they said.

They were “distressed and saddened” at being unable “to prove with legal certainty where many of these infants were buried especially with regard to Bessborough”.

Deeply regretted

The Daughters of Charity, who ran another of the larger homes (Pelletstown on the Navan Road in Dublin), said they deeply regretted “that we could not have done more to ease the burden and suffering carried by these women”.

The Good Shepherd Sisters, who ran a home at Dunboyne, Co Meath, welcomed the commission findings that it “provided comfortable, warm accommodation and the residents were well looked after physically”.

They welcomed, too, acceptance that Good Shepherd Sisters “were not directly involved in arrangements for adoption” and the finding that “the commission has seen no evidence of any abuse in Dunboyne”.

The Sisters of Mercy, who had been involved with the Clare county home in Kilrush up to 1928 and at the county home at Stranorlar, Co Donegal until 1980, noted that they were “not required to attend before the commission, but we did facilitate the commission with access to our archives in the course of its work”.

A spokesman for the Bons Secours Sisters, who ran the Tuam home, said a response could be expected on Wednesday.