TWO Catholic Bishops whose Diocese are in Donegal have issued an apology to the women of Mother and Baby Homes.

Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Raphoe and Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown issued a joint statement yesterday, acknowledging the truth of the reality of the institutions, which was laid bare in the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother & Baby Homes.

A harrowing report released yesterday details how 56,000 unmarried mothers and 57,000 children passed through the 18 institutions investigated by the commission. 9,000 children who were in the institutions died between 1922 and 1998.

The Bishops say the contents of the report are a source of embarrassment and shame.

“We are reading stories of many vulnerable women and girls who were pregnant. At a time when they needed love and care they found themselves isolated and abandoned,” the statement said.

“Not only that but they were stigmatised by a culture of fear, judgement and secrecy.

“It is a source of embarrassment and shame that we, as a Church, along with the rest of Irish society, failed them so badly.  There is no doubt that the Church contributed greatly to the culture which was, as the Report says, ‘harsh and uncaring’ in relation to women who deserved only kindness and support.

“As bishops we want to acknowledge the truth of this reality and apologise sincerely to the women who were so badly let down.”

Bishop Alan McGuckian
Bishop Donal McKeown

‘Castle Diaries’ from The Castle Newtowncunningham and accounts from the Stranorlar County Home in Donegal are contained in the final Mother and Baby Homes report.

The Bishops said: “In Co Donegal there were two institutions examined by the Commission.

“For the County Home, in Stranorlar, the Commission looked at the years from 1921 to 1994.  The accounts of the hardship endured by those who lived there, in the most unhealthy and undignified of conditions, are truly heart-breaking. The fact that the grievous physical shortcomings were often pointed out by departmental inspectors, and staff, to no avail, is unbelievable.

“‘The Castle’ in Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, ran from 1982 to 2006 under the management of the North Western Health Board.

“It was founded with support from our two dioceses of Derry and Raphoe, and representatives of both dioceses served on its board of management. We welcome the report’s positive findings about the staff, as it stated: ‘The staff were local women who, in the Commission’s view, showed a great deal of empathy and, possibly more importantly, common sense’.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued a State apology to survivors in the Dáil on Wednesday and Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Church’s leader in Ireland ‘unreservedly’ apologised to the victims and survivors.

Bishops McGuckian and McKeown said: “We thank Judge Yvonne Murphy and the Commission staff for their clear and comprehensive report.  This report has done a great service to survivors, their families, to wider society including the Church.  The contents, and in particular the personal testimonies, can help us find the truth about our past.

“It is only by acknowledging the truth of this reality, and the hurt and pain experienced, that we can begin the journey of healing.

“We pray for healing and hope for all of those who still suffer. We remember and we pray especially for those women and children who were treated so badly, and who are now dead.”