The month of January 2021 will go down in history as the time when the people of Ireland – north and south – came face to face with a stark reality of our past which we preferred would remain hushed and hidden – the way we stigmatised and harshly judged many vulnerable pregnant women in crisis and treated them and their children in such a cold and uncaring manner. We made them feel guilty and ashamed.
As a Catholic Church leader in Ireland it is I who now feel embarrassed and guilty over the way in which we in the Church contributed to, and bolstered, that culture of concealment, condemnation, and self-righteousness. For that I am truly sorry and ask the forgiveness of survivors. How did we so obscure the love and mercy and compassion of Christ which is at the very heart of the Gospel? Shame on us.
The persistence and the powerful testimonies of these same courageous survivors has lifted the lid on this dark chapter of our shared history and exposed our hypocrisy to the glaring light.
The important work of Dr McCormick, Professor O’Connell and their team is another step on the journey towards revealing the full truth of our past. I thank them for their Report and encourage everyone to spend time with it, reflecting in particular on the striking oral history section which grounds their research in the testimonies of mothers and their children.
The story of Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Ireland – north and south – touches the lives of countless families across this island. No doubt it will rekindle troubling memories and raise difficult questions for many of us. However we can all play a part in the journey towards healing and reparation. We can also ensure that lessons are learned for the present and the future. No mother or child today should be made to feel unwelcome, unwanted or unloved. No father today should shirk his responsibilities. No priest or bishop or religious sister or any lay member of the Church today should deny the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. No family today should shun their child to protect some misguided notion of “respectability” in the parish community. We still have so much to learn and so much work to do.
It is clear from the Research Report that there is scope for further investigation or inquiry into aspects of this complex story. I encourage all in leadership within the Church and State to extend their full cooperation with the work of the independent investigation announced today so that those who have been most impacted can be helped to find hope and peace for the future.