We have had some time now to digest the report of the Commission of enquiry into Mother and baby homes, although I doubt that many of us, including myself, have waded through its 3,000 pages. We have however had a breakdown of the main points of the findings presented in the mainstream media and by anybody's standards the story that has unfolded makes for sad and sorry reading. We have also heard first-hand the heart-breaking stories of individual women who spent time in these homes and in most cases were forced to surrender their babies. Their stories evoke a deep sadness in all of us and a profound sense of shame. Our first concern must be for these women and for the children they were forced to surrender.

Mother and baby homes take us back to a different time and place, to a society where 'respectability' meant keeping those pregnant outside of marriage hidden away. In Ireland the churches played a major part in fostering the underlying attitudes that ostracised the young women involved and it is shocking to hear of cases where individual priests on occasion named women from the altar in a bid to drive them from their community. Families who had imbibed this attitude saw only one solution to the problem and in many cases issued an ultimatum to their daughters to preserve the families 'standing' in the community.

Such an approach stands in direct opposition to the mind and attitudes of Jesus and there is no justification for it. Yes, it is true that such institutions also existed in the UK and in many other countries where the church had no great influence and here it is probably down to the Victorian values that prevailed, but that in no way mitigates the role of Christian churches in our own country. The church is supposed to be a community of love, a beacon of hope for society, it clearly failed miserably when it comes to mother and baby homes, as it has done in the area of child protection in the past.

It's difficult to understand how religious orders got involved in such places in the first instance and there are indeed questions to be answered about the regime and practices they created. In some cases the homes sound more like open prisons than places of refuge and care, where vulnerable girls and young women were treated with disdain rather than compassion. It is clear that redress is called for and all involved, both church and state, must do the right thing.

As Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said in his recent statement, 'This Report will hopefully speak not just to our past but will also have lessons for today and for future generations. As Church, State and wider society we must ensure together that, in the Ireland of today, all children and their mothers feel wanted, welcomed and loved. We must also continue to ask ourselves where people today might feel similarly rejected, abandoned, forgotten or pushed to the margins.'

Philip Curran
St. Mary's Lucan

January 22, 2021 - 8:51pm

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