The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has apologised for its role in the Mother and Baby Homes.
A research report into operation of the institutions, published on Tuesday, examined eight mother and baby homes, a number of former workhouses and four Magdalene laundries.
Some of those investigated were operated by the Presbyterian Church.
Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Rev Dr David Bruce said: “We deeply regret and unreservedly apologise for the damaging effects of institutional care, in which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, or its members played a part.
“We pray that those who still live with the memories of those days will know and experience the peace of God which may only be found in Christ’s love.”
In a statement the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: “The Report sheds much needed light on a dark era in Northern Ireland’s history and speaks more of the inhumanity shown to mothers and their babies and their wider families at that time, than the Christian care and compassion they deserved.”
Rev Bruce said the facts uncovered in the newly published report “make for deeply uncomfortable reading.”
He added: “The terrible cost to every mother and child who suffered in such institutions is upsetting for all of us in society.
“Those children who survived, who have now been given opportunity to share their stories, along with their mothers who they may never have known, are an ongoing and courageous witness to an era in which the state, society and the churches failed to show compassion to some of the most vulnerable in their care.
“The Report sheds much needed light on a dark era in Northern Ireland’s history and speaks more of the inhumanity shown to mothers and their babies and their wider families at that time, than the Christian care and compassion they deserved.
“In any forthcoming inquiry, or process, we will certainly co-operate as far as we are able.”
He added: “With regards to our own history, we will need to reflect on the findings of this report, and our own association with, for example, what became the Edgar Home in Belfast, which closed some 93 years ago.”
More than 10,500 women entered mother and baby homes over a 68-year period from 1922.
Around a third of those admitted were aged under 19 and most were from 20-29.
A number were the victims of sexual crime, including rape and incest.
Around 4% of babies were either stillborn or died shortly after birth across the entire period.
An estimated 32% of infants were sent to baby homes following separation from their birth mother.
Other babies were boarded out – fostered in today’s terms.
Others (around a quarter of babies) were placed for adoption.
Research was undertaken by a team of academics from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.