[Opinion] Our lost children don’t need apologies from the church, only answers

By Colm Tóibín
January 17, 2021

For decades a deeply conservative Ireland put unmarried mothers in the care of the Catholic Church, a brutal ‘shadow state’ in which thousands of children died or were forcibly adopted. It claims to be sorry — so why won’t it open up its archives?

The report on mother and baby homes in Ireland, published last Tuesday, is one more investigation of a dark past in Ireland. This was a time when the Catholic Church operated as a sort of shadow state. All of us who were brought up in that state took its power for granted. The church controlled the schools and owned the hospitals; it ran orphanages and industrial schools and homes for unmarried mothers. A compliant state paid the church for these services and let it run them as it pleased.

The report, at almost 3,000 pages, establishes that over nearly 80 years from 1920 almost 60,000 women and the same number of children went through the system and 9,000 children died. According to the minister for children, Roderic O’Gorman, the report “makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture, where a pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future”.




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