Survivors of abuse in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their children need a sincere apology and meaningful action, says an Australian trauma expert.
About 9000 infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers mostly run by the Catholic Church from the 1920s to the 1990s, according to the final report of a five-year inquiry published in Dublin on Tuesday.
The government-commissioned paper is the latest in a series that have laid bare some of the Catholic Church’s worst abuses.
The judicial investigation which produced it covered 18 so-called Mother and Baby Homes where, over decades, young pregnant women were hidden from society.
Infants were taken from mothers and sent overseas to be adopted. Children were vaccinated without consent.
Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of the Australian-based Blue Knot Foundation, which deals with complex trauma, said the abuse of children and their mothers was “devastating and shocking”.
“There’s a level of cruelty, sadism and disregard for people’s human rights here that’s just unfathomable and indefensible,” Dr Kezelman told AAP.
But survivors’ hopes for a brighter future remain. Healing is absolutely possible with the right support.”
The head of the Irish Catholic Church unreservedly apologised to survivors and praised their determination to bring to light “a dark chapter in the life of church and society”.
And Dr Kezelman said while a “meaningful apology” could assist survivors in their recovery journey, it had to be coupled with real action.
“Acknowledgement is very important but it certainly doesn’t bring closure,” she said.
“All measures need to be taken to show how substantially the systems have changed – that children are safe and protected and that anyone coming forward to disclose abuse is listened to.
“It’s about being believed, heard, respected and honoured.”
Relatives allege babies were mistreated because they were born to unmarried mothers who, like their children, were seen as a stain on Ireland’s image as a devout Catholic nation.
The inquiry said those admitted included girls as young as 12.
Government records show the mortality rate for children at the homes where 56,000 women and girls, including victims of rape and incest, were sent to give birth, was often more than five times that of those born to married parents.
Blue Knot Foundation could neither confirm nor deny whether it had any contact with Australian-based survivors of the Irish homes, Dr Kezelman said.
But she said the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which released its final report in 2017, demonstrated children were still being harmed in Australia.
“It’s not all over,” Dr Kezelman said.