Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary has said he is “horrified and saddened” to have learned of the large number of children buried in the “graveyard” at the former Bon Secours mother and baby home in the town.
Speaking at 10.30am Mass on Sunday in Tuam Cathedral, Dr Neary said his continued priority was to seek a “dignified re-interment” of the remains of children in consecrated ground - in cooperation with the families of the deceased.
The archdiocese would also continue to co-operate with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, he said,although not directly involved in running the institution, which closed in 1961.
The commission’s work, “though difficult to read and comprehend” was “another necessary step on the path to the truth”, he said.
“I was greatly shocked, as we all were, to learn of the extent of the numbers of children buried in the graveyard at the mother and baby home in Tuam,” Dr Neary said to the packed congregation for the first mass of Lent.
“ I was made aware of the magnitude of this situation by media reporting and historical research,”he said, referring without naming her to the work of local historian Catherine Corless.
“ I am horrified and saddened to hear, through the commission’s interim statement of March 3rd 2017, that quite a large quantity of human remains were discovered on this site which, on analysis, matches the timescale of the Tuam mother and baby home,” he said.
“This points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers. Albeit not unexpected, I was very upset as I read the commission’s findings made public on Friday,” he continued.
“I can only begin to imagine the huge emotional wrench which the mothers suffered in giving up their babies for adoption or by witnessing their death,” Dr Neary said.
“ Some of these young vulnerable women may already have experienced rejection by their families. The pain and brokenness which they endured is beyond our capacity to understand,” he said.
“ It is, then, simply too difficult to comprehend their helplessness and suffering as they watched their beloved child die,” he said.
Dr Neary said he found the first reading from last Sunday’s Mass, drawn from the prophet Isaiah, particularly comforting, and he quoted Isaiah 49:14-15.
“Regardless of the time lapse involved this is a matter of great public concern,” Dr Neary said.
“I welcome the fact that the commission has already asked that the relevant State authorities take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains, and that the coroner has been informed,” he said.
“ It continues to be a priority for me, in cooperation with the families of the deceased, to seek to obtain a dignified re-interment of the remains of the children in consecrated ground in Tuam,” he said.
“As the archdiocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam, I have no specific information on the manner of interment of remains, but any material we have which is even remotely related to the investigation, has been handed over in full to the commission,” Dr Neary said.
“The commission’s update on its work is very difficult for us to read and comprehend, but it is another necessary step on the path to the truth. We have nothing to fear from the truth because, as Jesus himself assures us, the truth always sets us free,” he continued.
“Therefore, the archdiocese will continue to assist the commission in every way possible until its work is concluded and its final report is published,” he said.
“Today, however, those who have suffered are uppermost in our minds and at the very heart of our prayers,” Dr Neary concluded.
He prayed for consolation for “all those mothers whose children died in the mother and baby home, their families, and all who are affected by and upset by the news which came as a body-blow to us all”.