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Irish archbishop horrified by discovery of human remains buried at former church-run home

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Catholic News Service

DUBLIN — The commission set up to investigate the treatment of unmarried mothers and their babies in Irish care homes during the 20th century says it has found “significant” human remains at the site of a former home in western Ireland.

The entrance to the site of a burial site at the former Mother and Baby home in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland is seen in this 2014 file photo. The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is probing how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 state-regulated institutions, many of them run by religious orders. (CNS photo/Aidan Crawley, EPA)

The entrance to the site of a burial site at the former Mother and Baby home in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland is seen in this 2014 file photo. The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is probing how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 state-regulated institutions, many of them run by religious orders. (CNS photo/Aidan Crawley, EPA)

A spokesman for the commission said March 3 that the body was shocked by the discovery made in Tuam, County Galway, at the site formerly managed by the Bon Secours religious order.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is probing how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 state-regulated institutions, many of them run by religious orders. Tuam Archbishop Michael Neary said during Mass March 5 he was “horrified and saddened to hear” the commission’s revelations.

“This points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers,” the archbishop said. “I can only begin to imagine the huge emotional wrench which the mothers suffered in giving up their babies for adoption or by witnessing their death. Some of these young vulnerable women may already have experienced rejection by their families. The pain and brokenness which they endured is beyond our capacity to understand. It is, then, simply too difficult to comprehend their helplessness and suffering as they watched their beloved child die,” Archbishop Neary said.

The commission said the “remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 fetal weeks to 2-3 years.”

“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home,” it said.

The causes of death are, as yet, unknown. However, previous reports have highlighted the high levels of infant mortality in the homes due to disease and other natural causes.

The investigation will now center on why the remains were not buried in traditional graves and whether the deaths were reported to the civil authorities at the time.

“The commission is shocked by this discovery and is continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way,” it added in a statement.

Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s minister for children and youth affairs, said it was “very sad and disturbing news.”

“It was not unexpected as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years,” she said. She added that everybody involved must respond sensitively and respectfully to the situation.

“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this home,” Zappone said. “We will honor their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately.”

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English cardinal apologizes for past practice of coercing unmarried mothers to give up babies

By

Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — An English cardinal has apologized for the “hurt caused” to young unmarried mothers pressured by church agencies in the mid-20th century to surrender their children for adoption.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster expressed regret for the actions of the church in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when about 500,000 British women were encouraged to give up their babies for adoption.

“The practices of all adoption agencies reflected the social values at that time and were sometimes lacking in care and sensitivity,” Cardinal Nichols said.

He added: “We apologize for the hurt caused by agencies acting in the name of the Catholic Church.”

The statement from Cardinal Nichols comes at the conclusion of an ITV documentary, scheduled to be broadcast in the U.K. Nov. 9.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, is seen at the Vatican in this 2014 file photo. In a program to be aired on ITV, he apologized to unmarried women pressured by the church to hand over their children for adoption. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, is seen at the Vatican in this 2014 file photo. In a program to be aired on ITV, he apologized to unmarried women pressured by the church to hand over their children for adoption. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The film, “Britain’s Adoption Scandal: Breaking The Silence,” examines the experiences of women who were urged to give up their babies because they were unmarried.

According to ITV, some women were told that if they truly loved their children, they should hand them to the care of married couples.

Most of the adoption agencies involved were overseen by the Catholic Church and Church of England while the Salvation Army, a Christian charity, ran hostels for mothers and babies.

Lawyers acting for some of the mothers are calling upon the government to investigate the practice of adoption in the 30-year postwar period.

Carolynn Gallwey of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors told ITV: “These women were told not to speak about what had happened to them.

“But now they’re entitled to have their experiences recognized, and the only way to do that is through a public inquiry,” she said.

Adoption in the U.K. reached a peak in 1968 when 16,000 babies born to unmarried mothers were sent to new families.

The 1967 Abortion Act came into force that same year, and the rates of adoption declined sharply in subsequent years as abortion became more prevalent.

From March 2014 to March 2015, 430 children under the age of 12 months were adopted in the U.K.

The role of the church in adoptions in the 1950s was examined in the 2013 movie “Philomena,” which tells the true story of the search by Philomena Lee for her son some 50 years after nuns in Ireland persuaded her to give him up for adoption.

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