The Church must accept responsibility and make reparation for its part in mother and baby homes which were a very shameful chapter of Irish history, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told the Pope.
Her candid message to Pope Francis also included a demand that the Church “willingly and unconditionally” contribute to a possible excavation and analysis of hundreds of remains at the Tuam mother and baby home.
The intervention by the Independent minister was made during the pontiff’s first moments on Irish soil and followed with a special memorandum which was forwarded to Pope Francis during his visit.
Ms Zappone, in Italian, told the 81-year-old on the steps of Áras an Uachtaráin after his arrival that she was responsible for the Tuam home, where some 796 babies died under the care of the Bon Secours Sisters.
In a follow-up two-page letter, she outlined the history behind the Tuam home and site, what the Government was doing and what role she thinks the Church should play in repairing the hurt and damage caused.
The Government set up a statutory commission of investigation in 2015 to examine concerns about institutional care of unmarried mothers and their babies. It was examining 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes, she outlined in the memorandum.
Excavations have since established the presence of human remains at the Tuam site. The Pope was told how remains, believed to be a significant number of baby bodies, are visible in a series of chambers that may have formed part of sewage treatment works for the property.
A number of options are being examined for the future of the Tuam site as to how the infants’ remains are treated. These include a full excavation of the site as well as a DAN analysis of the hundreds of remains buried. Local residents and others have also been asked for their opinions.
“It is my strong conviction that given the role of the Church in this shameful chapter of recent Irish history it must play a practical role in addressing the hurt and damage. I believe that the church should contribute substantially to the cost of whatever option is decided by the government. This should be done willingly, unconditionally and quickly. Nothing less will demonstrate remorse.”