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Bishop Fintan Monahan laments the chnaging of the blicencing laws to permit pubs to open on Good Friday. Photograph by John Kelly.

Bishop expresses ‘shock’ and ‘sorrow’ at Tuam revelations

BISHOP of Killaloe Fintan Monahan has expressed “shock” and “sorrow” at the discovery of human remains at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. He served as a priest in the Tuam diocese and as diocesan secretary from 2005 to 2006.

The find came at the conclusion of test excavations at the site. They were carried out at the behest of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation, which was established on February 17, 2015 and is chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy. The commission has been asked to establish the circumstances for the entry of single women into mother and baby homes and the living conditions they experienced there. It has also been asked to examine mortality among mothers and children who lived in these institutions.

“The reports that have emerged over the past few years have made for me such sad, shocking, disappointing and sorrowful reading. The level of shock and sadness among the general population also has been widespread. We are all overwhelmed by the revelations and even a generation or two later it is impossible to comprehend the great hurt and sorrow that resulted from this system. It really is inexplicable, in the light of the gospel, that is at the heart of all our callings, irrespective of the time we live in,” Bishop Monahan told The Clare Champion.

He was unaware of any issue with the mother and baby home in Tuam for much of the time he served in the diocese.

“The home in Tuam functioned from 1925 to 1961. For the first 12 years of the time I spent in Tuam, from 1993-2005, I didn’t know anything about the home, as the building was demolished soon after it closed, several decades prior to that. Occasionally, I heard older parishioners in the town of Tuam referring in conversation to ‘The Home Babies’.

“After becoming diocesan secretary in 2005-2006, people would occasionally telephone the diocesan office asking to view the detail of the baptismal records for their own relatives. The baptismal records were stored in the parish office. The Mother and Baby Home was owned by the State and the Bon Secours Sisters were invited by the State to administer the running of the home on a day-to-day basis. The involvement of the Tuam Archdiocese was on a pastoral level, with the provision of a chaplain for celebration of the sacraments. I believe that the records of the home were given by the sisters to Galway County Council when the home closed in 1961. All the Tuam diocesan priests who ministered in the home are long since deceased,” Bishop Monahan added.

About three years ago, he learned that many people had died at the home in Tuam.

“It was from around 2014, as a result of local historical research, that I became aware that the number of deaths in the home were extraordinarily high. It was on the back of the publicity surrounding this that the commission was established to investigate the home and several others around the country. There was not much data in relation to the home in the diocesan archives, apart from a few items of correspondence. These items were all made available to the commission historian and personnel. The interim report of the commission last Friday confirmed the terrible news of the large numbers of infants buried in the area of the former home,” he said.

Bishop Monahan said it is impossible to say if any body or individual will be held responsible.
“I honestly do not know the answer to that question. As far as I know, all individuals who were involved in the running of the home are no longer around. Whether the institutions involved, Church and State, are deemed to be accountable no doubt will be debated when the full report of the commission is published and the supplementary investigation is completed.

“It appears, since the interim report of the commission last week, that the involvement of gardaí and the coroner may be called upon. This is to be welcomed in an effort to get the fullest possible picture of the truth. It is in the interest of all interested parties that the complete truth would emerge.

“Minister Coveney, in commenting over the weekend, felt that the responsibility for such a system ranged across a wide cross-section of society at the time. The Taoiseach, in recent days, has called for a period of reflection before the next steps are taken,” he noted, adding that last weekend the Archbishop of Tuam said that he will “prioritise engaging with families affected and cooperating with the already established local groups, who have done great work to ensure that all the deceased are properly commemorated and that they have a dignified resting place”.

Peter O’Connell

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