Church of Ireland archbishops issue apology over mother and baby homes

Women and children ‘stigmatised’ and ‘endangered’ by ‘culture of hypocrisy and judgment’

A grave for children who died in the Bethany Home in Dublin. Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said the women and children who passed through the homes ‘deserved much better’. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

A grave for children who died in the Bethany Home in Dublin. Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said the women and children who passed through the homes ‘deserved much better’. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

The two Church of Ireland archbishops have acknowledged “with shame” that the church was “complicit, as with the rest of society at that time, in a culture of hypocrisy and judgment which stigmatised women and children and endangered their health and wellbeing”.

Responding to the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said the women and children who passed through the homes “deserved much better”.

“We are sorry and apologise for the role that our Church played in shaping a society in which unmarried women and their children were treated in this way,” they said in a statement.

“We also want to pay tribute to those former residents of homes, and others, who have focused society’s attention on mother and baby homes. One of the most prominent groups was associated with the Bethany Home, which operated under a general Protestant ethos while being independently managed.”

The commission said that Bethany Home, which began in Dublin 7 and later moved to Rathgar, admitted 1,584 women and 1,376 children over 49 years.

Infant mortality

The deaths of five women and 262 children were associated with the institution, and the commission found Bethany was “no exception” to the high rates of infant mortality seen in the homes until the late 1940s.

The Association of Catholic Priests too has associated itself “with the various expressions of sorrow and regret from episcopal voices in response” to the commission’s report.

They agreed with Bishop Paul Dempsey of Achonry when he said “we must face the difficult reality that it was a society which was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church”.

The association said the report “highlights yet again two very damaging aspects of Catholic teaching and practice dating back to the early centuries of the Church: an underlying, but enormously influential, strain of misogyny, and a negative and oppressive attitude to sexuality, particularly in relation to women.”

Meanwhile, Galway County Council, which was severely criticised by the commission over its dealings with the Tuam mother and baby home – which it owned – and the lack of information it supplied to the commission, has welcomed the report.

‘Co-operation’

It said: “The co-operation and assistance of the council will continue and it is committed to supporting the actions and work that will follow on from the publication of the final report.”

Where the remains of children at Tuam were concerned, it acknowledged “the commitment by Government to advance burials legislation to support the excavation, exhumation and, where possible, identification of remains together with their dignified reburial.”

It would “continue to actively assist the ongoing work to implement the Government’s agreed course of action and response for the Tuam site,” it said.

There were 2,219 women in the Tuam mother and baby home and 3,251 children, 978 of whom died.

Westmeath County Council, in a statement on Friday, said it associated itself with the Taoiseach’s State apology and it was committed “to supporting local measures that form part of the suite of follow-up actions, for example, in relation to memorialisation and access to archives and records”.

It contributed to the running of the Castlepollard home where 4,972 women were admitted and 4,559 children were housed, 247 of whom died there.