Irish gov't, Catholic Church apologize for rampant mistreatment of mothers, kids at church-run homes

Children's Home
Children’s Home, Dublin Road, Tuam, Ireland circa 1950. |

Officials representing both the Republic of Ireland and the Irish Catholic Church have officially apologized for the rampant mistreatment of unwed mothers and their children at church-run homes.

Recently, Ireland’s Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes released a report on the homes, examining their operations from 1922 to 1998, with earlier decades showing harsh treatments for residents of said homes.

According to the Executive Summary of the report, available for download here, approximately 9,000 children died while at the homes, which equals 15% of all children who lived at the homes.

“The very high rate of infant mortality (first year of life) in Irish mother and baby homes is probably the most disquieting feature of these institutions,” noted the summary.

“The death rate among ‘illegitimate’ children was always considerably higher than that among ‘legitimate’ children but it was higher still in mother and baby homes: in the years 1945-'46, the death rate among infants in mother and baby homes was almost twice that of the national average for ‘illegitimate’ children.”

In a speech before Parliament on Wednesday, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin offered an apology on behalf of the state, which helped to run the homes.

“Children born outside of marriage were stigmatized and were treated as outcasts in school and in wider society. Some children who were subsequently boarded-out experienced heartbreaking exploitation, neglect and abuse within the families and communities in which they were placed. This was unforgivable.

“The sense of abandonment felt by many of these children is palpable in the witness accounts," he said. "The circumstances of their birth, the arrangements for their early care, the stigma they experienced and the continuing lack of birth information, is a terrible burden in their lives.”

“I want to offer my own apology to the children who were hidden away, treated as a commodity, or as second-class citizens and to the mothers who for whom there was no other option but to give up their child,” Martin continued.

“Church and State ran these homes together, operating hand in glove, equally culpable, and did so with the full knowledge and acquiescence of wider society. Church and State re-enforced social prejudice and judgement when they should have tried to change it.”

Martin went on to conclude that “now is our opportunity to make restitution on behalf of the generations that preceded us,” adding that there were “lessons here for us as a society and a State today.”

“Today is a day of atonement, when we express our horror and sorrow at the story of Ireland told in this report, when we promise to do right by those who suffered,” he added.

Archbishop Eamon Martin, head of the Irish Catholic Church, also released a statement on the report, saying that it showcased “a dark chapter in the life of Church and society.”

“I accept that the Church was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected,” the Archbishop said, according to Reuters.

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

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