Bishops welcome statutory inquiry into mother and baby homes

Prelates offer apology for Church’s role

The Irish Catholic bishops have welcomed the announcement of a Commission of Inquiry into Ireland’s mother and baby homes.

On the second day of their quarterly meeting at Maynooth, June 10, amid widespread coverage of the Tuam mother and baby home, the bishops issued a statement responding to the Government’s announcement that a full statutory investigation of all such homes in the State would now be established.

“The harrowing story which is continuing to emerge of life and death in mother and baby homes has shocked the people of Ireland,” the bishops said. “It is disturbing that the residents of these homes suffered disproportionately high levels of mortality and malnutrition, disease and destitution. We need to find out more about what this period in our social history was really like and to consider the legacy it has left us as a people. Above all we need to enable those who were directly affected to receive recognition and appropriate support.”

Encouraging all who had any responsibility for the establishment or running of homes to now “gather any documentation or information that might be of assistance”, the bishops acknowledged the Church’s own role in the issue and offered an apology in that light.

“Sadly we are being reminded of a time when unmarried mothers were often judged, stigmatised and rejected by society, including the Church…mindful of the words of Jesus, ‘Let the little children come to me, because it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs’, we apologise for hurt caused by the Church as part of this system.”

Announcing the Commission of Investigation, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said this approach offered a “reasonably efficient approach to matters of urgent public concern”.

Referencing the widespread coverage of the issue, Minister Flanagan appealed for a measured use of language both within and beyond Leinster House in dealing with matters.

“We are dealing with personal histories here and it is not the time for sensationalism,” he cautioned.

This, he added, extended to an apparent drive to demonise the Church as the villain of the stories emerging.

“Insensitive language has been used in the rush to cast blame,” the minister said. “Undoubtedly, many individuals are culpable for the cruelties of the past, but, I want to acknowledge the reality that Irish society as a whole colluded in maintaining the regime of mother and baby homes. If we are to face up the truth of our past as a nation – and I strongly believe that we must do that – then we must resist temptation to simplify our history.”

Acknowledging the early expressions of support for a full investigation from Archbishop’s Diarmuid Martin and Michael Neary, Bishop John Buckly and the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop Michael Jackson, Minister Flanagan called “on all Church leaders to fully cooperate and lend their practical support to the Commission of Inquiry”.