An Irish inquiry into the alarming mortality rates among newborns in homes run by churches for single mothers will release its final report on Tuesday, unveiling one of the darkest chapters in the Catholic Church and leading to demands for state compensation.
The Church’s reputation in Ireland has been destroyed by a series of scandals about pedophile priests, asylum abuses, forced baby adoptions and other painful issues.
Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the scandals during the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades in 2018.
The remains of 802 children, from newborns to three-year-olds, were buried between 1925 and 1961 in just one of the so-called Mother and Baby Houses, a 2017 interim report revealed.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny described the cemetery in Tuam, in western Galway County, as a “chamber of horrors”.
The inquiry was launched six years ago, after evidence of an unidentified mass cemetery in Tuam was discovered by local amateur historian Catherine Corless, who said she was haunted by childhood memories of skinny children at home.
The 3,000-page report makes reading difficult, said Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
“This was a huge social failure and a huge shame for society to have a stolen generation of children who did not have the education they were supposed to have,” he told RTE national broadcaster on Monday.
Relatives claimed that the babies were mistreated because they were born to single women who, like their children, were seen as a blot on Ireland’s image as a devout Catholic nation.
Government records show that the death rate of children in homes where tens of thousands of women, including victims of rape, were sent to give birth, was often more than five times that of married parents.
“My heart is broken for every survivor,” said Anna Corrigan, whose two brothers John and William Dolan died at the home of single mothers in Tuam.
“We hope, as we always expect, truth, justice, accountability, resulting in prosecutions should they arise and compensation for survivors,” she told Reuters on Tuesday, before the report was published.
The Church administered many social services in Ireland in the 20th century. Although run by nuns, the houses received state funding and, like adoption agencies, were also regulated by the state.
Although Irish voters have overwhelmingly approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums in recent years, the scandal of the mother and baby house has revived anguish over how women and children were treated in the not-too-distant past.
The houses were the subject of the 2013 Oscar-nominated film Philomena, which recorded Philomena Lee’s failed efforts to find the son she was forced to give up when she was a single teenager.