Pope Francis Asked by Irish Minister to Pay for Remains of Hundreds of Children Thrown in Sewage

pope francis
Pope Francis has lunch with the poor following a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. |

Ireland's children minister has said that the Catholic Church must pay for the recovery of hundreds of children's remains that were thrown in sewage systems decades ago at a nunnery.

"It is my strong conviction that given the role of the Church in this shameful chapter of recent Irish history it must play a practical role in addressing the hurt and damage," Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone said in her remarks to Pope Francis, who visited the country over the weekend.

"I believe that the Church should contribute substantially to the cost of whatever option is decided by the government .... Nothing less will demonstrate remorse," she added as the text of her request to Francis was released to the media on Monday.

As Crux Now explains, close to 800 babies and young children are believed to have been found in mass graves in an underground sewage structure from a home for unwed mothers and their children, which was run by an order of Catholic nuns in the 20th century.

DNA tests have shown that the remains of the children found at the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway were buried in the 1950s. Most children were aged between 35 weeks to 3-years-old.

Francis apologized for the sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church for decades, including in Ireland, during this past weekend's World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

During Sunday mass in Dublin, the pontiff asked for forgiveness for abuses in Ireland "of power, conscience, and sexual abuse perpetrated by those with roles of responsibility in the church."

Still, Irish protesters have also demanded that the dead children also receive justice.

Hundreds marched in the town of Tuam on Sunday, placing hundreds of infant shoes around a tiny white coffin at the burial site in a symbolic gesture.

On the plane back to Rome Sunday evening, Francis told journalists that he was going to study the memo that was given to him by Zappone.

"It touched my heart, that is why I wanted to repeat it during my speech [at Dublin Castle]," Francis told journalists, as reported by The Irish Times.

Francis said that he was not aware of the mother-baby homes where the deaths occurred.

"I had never heard of these mothers, they call it the laundromat of women where an unwed woman is pregnant and goes into these hospitals, I don't know what they call them, schools, run by the nuns and then they gave children to the people in adoption," the pope stated.

"It was for me painful [to hear] but with the awareness that I have could help clear these things up."

Historian Catherine Corless, who led the investigation of the discovery of mass graves in 2014 at the mother-child homes, said that getting Francis' attention has been an important development.

"I am very thankful to Minister Zappone for what she has done for the Tuam site in the last year. The fact that she spoke to the Pope when she got the chance, we are very, very thankful to her," Corless said, according to The Irish Independent.

The Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, meanwhile told BBC News that more research needs to be undertaken in Tuam to discover the full extent of what happened to the young children.

"I think there has to be an excavation at the site to see actually what we are talking about," McKeown said.

"All we have at present is some sort of ultrasounds, things that have been identified from a distance. It is important that we do actually get to the facts," the bishop added.

"As well as the facts it is then dealing with individuals and broken hearts and shattered dreams and terrible memories."

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