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Irish bishops apologize for ill-treatment of unwed mothers, babies

About 57,000 babies were born in the 76-year period and the child mortality rate was as high as 15 percent

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: January 18, 2021 06:51 AM GMT
Irish bishops apologize for ill-treatment of unwed mothers, babies

Irish Catholic bishops have apologized for the ill-treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies after a government report on shelter homes operated by Catholic religious congregations.

The report confirmed that the Catholic shelter homes ill-treated unwed mothers and their babies. The bishops regretted the ill-treatment and said it was "a betrayal of Christ."

"Although it may be distressing, it is important that all of us spend time in the coming days reflecting on this report, which touches on the personal story and experience of many families in Ireland," Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said on Jan. 12.

The Irish commission of investigation probed mother and baby homes and released a report on Jan. 12. The six-year inquiry covered 14 shelter homes from 1922 to 1998.

Women who gave birth outside marriage were subject to harsh treatment, and the responsibility rests with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families, said the report.

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"It was supported by, contributed to and condoned by, the institutions of the state and churches," the report said.

"The commission's report helps to further open to the light what was for many years a hidden part of our shared history and it exposes the culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing which faced unmarried mothers and their children in this country," Archbishop Martin said, according to Catholic News Agency.

About 56,000 women and teenage girls were sent to these institutions. The county homes were run by the government, while the mother and baby homes were managed with government backing by religious orders under the local bishop's authority.

About 57,000 babies were born in the 76-year period. There was a high rate of mortality, with 15 percent of babies dying.

Authorities took no steps to check the high mortality rates, although they were aware of the issue.

The report said the high mortality rate was the most "disquieting feature" of the institutions. Before 1960, the institutions tried to "significantly reduce" survival prospects.

Poor hygienic conditions at the shelter homes had "much more serious consequences." There were no maximum capacity figures set for mother and baby homes until the 1940s.

Around 200 women who gave birth died while staying at mother and baby homes, the report said.

While the Catholic Church had no role in the day-to-day operation of the shelter homes, religious orders opened such homes with the local bishop's permission.

"The Catholic Church did not invent Irish attitudes to prudent marriages or family respectability; however, it reinforced them through church teachings that emphasized the importance of premarital purity and the sexual dangers associated with dance halls, immodest dress, mixed bathing and other sources of 'temptation,'" said the report.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin welcomed the report, saying it "brings to light the profound injustices perpetrated against the vulnerable in our society over a long period of time — against women and children whose lives were regarded as less important than the lives of others."

Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam hailed the report and asked forgiveness for "the abject failure of the Church for the pain and suffering visited on those women and their children."

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