In recent years, and again during this past week, we in the parish, the archdiocese, the country and beyond have been endeavouring to come to terms with the heart-breaking news of the Mother and Baby Home here in Tuam. This is a deeply distressing story for all of us, but especially so for those affected individuals and families. We can only attempt to understand the emotional upheaval which mothers suffered as they felt so helpless and isolated.
What is particularly harrowing is the report of high levels of mortality and malnutrition. It was an era when “unmarried mothers” – as our society at the time labelled women who were pregnant and not married – were often judged, stigmatised and ostracised by their own community and the Church, and this all happened in a harsh and unforgiving climate. Compassion, understanding and mercy were sorely lacking.
It is now timely that this dimension of our social history be addressed and thoroughly examined. To do so would begin the process of attempting to explain, but not to excuse, what happened in our not too distant collective past. Perhaps we could begin with this fundamental question: “How could the culture of Irish society, which purported to be defined by Christian values, have allowed itself to behave in such a manner towards our most vulnerable?”
There is an understandable sense of shared anger arising from this situation; people are deeply distressed and desperately upset by what they hear and read. There is a danger, however, that when anger begins to die down, we may be tempted to move quickly to the next social problem from the past without having fully understood the complex and tragic historical situation before us. The use of highly-charged emotive language, while understandable in the situation, may prove to be counter-productive.
There is an urgent need for an enquiry to examine all aspects of life at the time, broadening the focus from one particular religious congregation, and instead addressing the roles and interrelationships between Church, State, local authorities and society generally. Such an approach should ensure that the truth will emerge no matter how unpalatable it may be to those on whichever side of the present discussion. In this way we will be enabled to move genuinely forward. One hopes that the Report of the Commission will enable that truth to surface in a clear and objective manner.
Even today there are huge challenges surrounding how we care for the disadvantaged in our society. In years to come our present society will inevitably be subjected to scrutiny and will most likely be found deficient in many areas to which we are blind at present. We need to learn from the past in order to prevent similar injustices in our time, and so as to inform our future generations.
I wish to again apologise for the hurt caused by the failings of the Church as part of that time and society when – instead of being cherished – particular children and their mothers were not welcomed, they were not wanted and they were not loved.
In the story of the Transfiguration in today’s Gospel, frightened disciples are given a preview of the Resurrection in order to give them courage to face the scandal of the Cross. Today, we pray for that courage to enable us to face squarely and honestly those agonising questions which confront us from our recent past. Let us pray for the light which will illuminate the dark recesses of that past and bring hope and healing to us all. Amen.
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam
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