This week saw the Irish government published a long-awaited Commission of Report into the Mother and Baby Homes. This report reminded so many of us of the Catholic Church’s atrocities against women and children in Ireland. However, some of the Commission’s conclusions in the report have been met with disappointment from survivor groups and TDs alike. With the church’s abuse and cruelty back in the media spotlight, one must question if this apparent holy institution has benefitted this small island nation in any way.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin rose to his feet in Dáil Éireann on the 13th of January to issue a State apology to the survivors of the horrific Mother and Baby Homes run by Catholic nuns until the late 90s. TDs from across the Dáil welcomed the apology, but there was an overarching feeling from survivors, TDs, and the Irish public that this apology was long overdue.
An Taoiseach’s apology has created a sense of anger among those who had their livelihoods directly by State and Church collusion. Many survivors groups like The Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors were displeased with An Taoiseach’s apology. His repeated mentioning of how societal failures led to the horrors seen in these homes was seen as a ‘cop out’ by survivor groups, largely since Martin failed to hold the Church responsible for the crimes that were unveiled in the Commission’s investigation.
Additionally, Micheál Martin evaded mentioning the State’s role in the foundation of these institutions. With the absence of an explanation of why the State enabled the Church to continue their human rights abuses, it is unsurprising why so many were left disappointed by the State. As Ireland heard of the deplorable acts carried out in these institutions, there was one clear voice missing from the media- the voice of the Church.
The Church has yet to formally apologise for what they allowed to occur in its institutions, with the apparent ‘silent treatment’ being used by the Church as they attempt to come out of this heinous scandal unscathed. Adding to this, survivors felt exceedingly grieved by the inaccurate information and conclusion contained in the Commission’s report. The Commission reports that mothers were not forced into Mother and Baby Homes, something we all know to be untrue. Catherine Corless, the heroic woman who uncovered the horrifying acts of the Church in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, also criticised the report saying it ‘skimmed over’ the pressing issue of forced adoptions.
TDs have also voiced their discontentment with the report. Leas Ceann Comhairle, Catherine Connolly, expressed her displeasure on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, suggesting that the Commission disregarded so many heartbreaking testimonies in many areas. Connolly also referenced the lack of regard given to endless testimonies about forced adoptions. People Before Profit have called for a full criminal investigation into these institutions with all the Church’s assets to be sequestered. Richard Boyd-Barrett of PBP, born in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, called the report a ‘whitewash.’ and ‘an insult to all survivors.’
One finds it hard to disagree with Deputy Boyd-Barrett when the report concluded that these deadly homes provided ‘refuge.’ Deputy Holly Cairns of the Social Democrats said in the Dáil that ‘It hasn’t left us. This fear of girls and women. This desire to control their lives and bodies.’ She spoke of this when referring to what she witnessed when canvassing during the 2018 Abortion Rights Referendum. This signals one clear message. The Catholic church has damaged this country to the point where women still feel oppressed, a country where survivors of State facilitated abuse are not treated by the State or Religious Orders with the utmost respect they deserve.
When reading and hearing the emotional testimony of survivors that was ignored by the State; one message comes to mind ‘Cé a deir gur tír Chríostaí í seo?’ (Who says this is a Christian country?) The Church preaches messages of loving thy neighbour, but it is the Church who cannot display compassion to the families of the women and children they abused, and in many cases, killed.
When reading about the thousands of deaths in Mother Baby and Homes, one may consider it ‘mass murder’ as Deputy Holly Cairns put it. The horrendous acts carried out by the Church simply goes against all Christian morals that the Church teaches. The Church prays for those in warfare, famine, and other unthinkable scenarios, but yet they cannot look inward at themselves and see the damage they have inflicted upon the Papal Colony of Ireland. They don’t pray for the innocent women and children that died in their care; they won’t confess to what they did. Following decades of silence from church authorities, perhaps it is now time to question the Church’s hypocrisy and question their contribution to Irish society.
The Church’s draconian views on social issues have degraded the status of the Church in recent years, and their lack of ambition to apologise for the irreparable harm they inflicted on the people of this country shows that the Church Hierarchy sees itself as a superior entity. The pain of survivors is still as raw as it was decades ago, but the Church actively chooses to ignore this.
The Church’s lack of compassion and care has resurfaced in recent days, but we cannot let it out of our sight; Ireland must stand up to the oppressors who took over from the British in the 1920s. The Irish State has to listen to survivors, to the thousands who suffered at the Catholic Church’s brutal hands in not only their repressive institutes but also in our schools and hospitals. One thing has become glaringly obvious; a Catholic Ireland is a damaged Ireland.
The State is now under pressure to review the significant role the Church still plays in our schools and hospitals in light of the reaction to survivors’ harrowing accounts. Can the Church be trusted to have still a central role regarding the provision of education in Ireland? Will the government move to completely Church and State? Time will tell, but the future of the Church is now the bleakest it ever has been.