Despite Church, mother and baby home sites need excavation

Despite Church, mother and baby home sites need excavation
Catherine and Aidan Corless mark out with yellow rectangles the area at the Tuam Mother and Babies site where there are 22 chambers in a tank which hold the remains of the Tuam babies. Picture: Andy Newman.

Historian Catherine Corless, who exposed the Tuam Babies scandal, tells Donal O’Keeffe why she feels Tuam and Bessborough need to be excavated, and highlights Pope Francis’ apparent confusion about Tuam.

“It's sad that the Church we looked up to for compassion, and guidance to show us how to live a right life and to follow the path of Our Lord, has turned its back on us,” Catherine Corless said in recent days.

On the anniversary of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, some 200 people gathered at the site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby Home to protest what they say has been an inadequate response from Church and State, and to call for a full excavation.

Catherine Corless came to international attention in 2014, when she established that 796 children had died in the Tuam home. Subsequent excavation proved that many of the children were buried illegally in a disused sewerage system.

In that little square which made front pages globally, 18 yellow rectangles were taped out along the ground for Sunday’s commemoration.

“It took a while to mark out the little chambers, but that was very important to us,” Catherine told the Irish Examiner.

We wanted to show people: This is where the babies are. You’re standing on them.

Survivors of the home, relatives of people who died there, and supporters, gathered to remember the 796 Tuam babies.

It would have been lovely, Catherine said, if the Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, had taken a walk up to give some encouragement.

“That never happens. They keep their distance, and they keep their silence. It’s just a wall of silence.”

Survivor Peter Mulryan, who attended Sunday’s commemoration, called on the Government to “get these children out of the septic tank and give them a dignified burial.” Peter’s nine-month-old sister died in the Tuam home.

His mother spent her life in a Magdalene Laundry. He described as “deafening” the silence of the Bon Secours order, which ran the home.

A year ago, Pope Francis met survivors of clerical sex abuse, and survivors of mother and baby homes and industrial schools.

Some survivors said later that the Pope appeared never to have heard of Magdalene laundries or mother and baby homes. (Abuse survivor Marie Collins, who attended that meeting, says the Pope merely sought clarity on the difference between Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes, but acknowledges that others disagree with her interpretation.)

On the plane back to Rome, Pope Francis gave the impression of not knowing previously of Tuam, telling reporters that Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone had informed him: “Holy Father, we found mass graves of children, buried children, and we’re investigating … and the Church has something to do with this.”

Pope Francis, who met Sean Ross survivor Philomena Lee in 2014, then said:

“I had never heard of these mothers, they call it the laundromat of women where an unwed woman is pregnant and she goes into these hospitals, I don’t know what they call them, schools, run by the nuns and then they gave children to the people in adoption.”

Catherine Corless said she and her husband met Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in July, 2018 a month before the Pope’s visit.

“Archbishop Martin told me that he was in Rome in 2017 on the day the Commission of Investigation announced that the Tuam Babies had been found in that sewerage area.

“He stated quite categorically that he met the Pope that day, and the Pope asked if there was any news from Ireland. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin stated to us: ‘I told him the news is sad. I told him about Tuam and what had happened.’

“He said the Pope was speechless. He said the Pope was just standing there when he left him, thinking deeply. Now, I don’t know what to make of that. One of them isn’t telling the truth.”

Archbishop Martin has reiterated that he had told the Pope in 2017 of then-breaking news confirming a mass grave of children in Ireland.

In April, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes revealed that more than 900 children died in the religious-run Bessborough mother and baby home, but burial records exist for only 64.

“With over 800 children missing in Cork, I think Bessborough is another Tuam,” Catherine said.

According to the Commission, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary gave misleading information. That suggests they know the babies are buried on their grounds.

At least one map marks the area behind the nuns’ graveyard as “children’s burial ground”.

“If that is a cillín, a burial site for unbaptised babies, then they may well have buried the missing children there, or around it. We need test excavations at Bessborough.

"We also need to name the Bessborough babies, so people can know who they were, and how they died.”

For Catherine Corless, Tuam, Bessborough, Castlepollard, Sean Ross and all the other sites are connected.

What was done in Ireland in mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries, and industrial schools was simply wrong, and we cannot rest until justice is done.Catherine says the apparent lack of compassion shown by the Catholic Church has not changed her faith.

My faith hasn’t been affected at all. I still believe in a higher power. I still believe in the beauty of nature. I still believe in the work of God. I don’t need the Church.”

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