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Survivors’ stories must be heard

Comment & Opinion

DIGNIFIED BURIAL NEEDED The mass grave at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam.

THE unreserved apology and the request for forgiveness by the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, for the shameful and inhumane manner in which vulnerable women and their children were treated in Church and State institutions must be acknowledged and welcomed.
In his statement after last week’s publication of the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Archbishop Neary rightly notes that the Church ‘was intended to bring hope and healing, yet it brought harm and hurt for many of these women and children’. He observes that these young mothers – often teenagers – were labelled ‘unmarried mothers’ and their children ‘illegitimate’ while they were then ‘judged, stigmatised, and ostracised by their own families, by their communities, and the Church’.
“These attitudes were wrong and very sad. The Church failed in its responsibility to love and cherish those who were thus diminished. What this report makes clear to me is that when the Church is not serving with compassion, it is failing. For that I am genuinely sorry. As a Church leader I apologise unreservedly,” Archbishop Neary said.
However, we are all aware that the survivors and families of clerical and State abuse have been down the road of apologies by leaders in our society before. Mícheál Martin is the latest Taoiseach to issue such an apology.
We are also aware of how powerful both Church and State have been in ensuring they were legally protected and indemnified from claims of redress by these vulnerable people.
Referring to the Tuam Children’s Home, which was owned by Galway County Council on behalf of the State and run by the Bon Secours Sisters, Archbishop Neary observes that whilst the diocese did not have a direct responsibility in running this home, it did have a pastoral duty with priests acting as chaplains. Significantly, he admits that if the Church at the time had ‘been more forthright in acknowledging the responsibility of the men who fathered these children, the outcome for many young mothers and their children would have been very different indeed’.

Practical gesture needed
Importantly but unsurprisingly he refers to the shocking revelations in 2017 about the discovery of many human remains at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home site.
 “These discoveries underline the enormous suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers.
“While the Report makes for difficult reading, every step towards uncovering the complete truth regarding the burial pattern is welcome. In this way, as a society, we can take appropriate steps to heal the wounds caused, and we will be enabled to move forward together,” he continues.
He also acknowledges local historian Catherine Corless for ‘her investigative work which has afforded dignity, justice and truth to the deceased and their families’.
Clearly, it is time for the Church – both the diocesan and religious orders – to unreservedly release monies from its rich coffers in a real and practical gesture towards the many people who were treated abominably by our misogynistic institutions of power. This must be done not only in a spirit of reconciliation but with a commitment and conviction that such institutional abuses never recur.

Insensitive sentiments
Writing in his Irish Times column last Friday, historian Diarmaid Ferriter cites a letter written in February 1935 by the parish priest of Westport to the then Archbishop of Tuam.  
“I have the very unpleasant duty to report . . . that an illegitimate child was born to a girl named [full name given] in this parish, living about three miles from here. The child lived only a few days and was not brought to the church for Baptism. It was given lay Baptism. The guards exhumed the body and the medical evidence showed it died from natural causes. A denunciation will take place on Sunday next.”
These are cold words and insensitive sentiments, exposing the unbridled power of the Church to humiliate its most vulnerable from its powerful pulpit.
In this edition of The Mayo News, one brave survivor reveals the realities of his early years in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. He talks too of the heartbreaking experiences of his now late mother, who he finally found in 2003, with any help from the Bon Secours Sisters.
It is survivors like Seosamh Ó Maolchroin who must have the loudest voice on this occasion.