Church leaders have issued apologies in the wake of the publication of the Research Report on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland.

The Research Report on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries, which was published in Northern Ireland on January 26, found "strong similarities" with the experience of women examined in the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which was published in the Republic of Ireland earlier this month.

The same day the report, which can be viewed here, was published, the Northern Ireland Executive announced that an independent inquiry will be launched.

"Shame on us"

Responding to the report, the Catholic Church's Eamon Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, issued a statement on January 26 that read in part:  “As a Catholic Church leader in Ireland, it is I who now feel embarrassed and guilty over the way in which we in the Church contributed to, and bolstered, that culture of concealment, condemnation, and self-righteousness. For that, I am truly sorry and ask the forgiveness of survivors. How did we so obscure the love and mercy and compassion of Christ which is at the very heart of the Gospel?  Shame on us.

“The persistence and the powerful testimonies of these same courageous survivors has lifted the lid on this dark chapter of our shared history and exposed our hypocrisy to the glaring light."

Noting that while the research report will "rekindle troubling memories" for countless families, Archbishop Martin says that there is much to be learned.

"No mother or child today should be made to feel unwelcome, unwanted, or unloved. No father today should shirk his responsibilities. No priest or bishop or religious sister or any lay member of the Church today should deny the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. No family today should shun their child to protect some misguided notion of 'respectability' in the parish and community. We still have so much to learn and so much work to do."

He concluded: “It is clear from the Research Report that there is scope for further investigation or inquiry into aspects of this complex story. I encourage all in leadership within the Church and State to extend their full cooperation with the work of the independent investigation announced today so that those who have been most impacted can be helped to find hope and peace for the future.”

"Unreservedly apologize"

Right Rev Dr. David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said in a statement: "The Report sheds much-needed light on a dark era in Northern Ireland’s history and speaks more of the inhumanity shown to mothers and their babies and their wider families at that time, than the Christian care and compassion they deserved.

"In any forthcoming inquiry or process, we will certainly co-operate as far as we are able.”

Dr. Bruce concluded: “When the report’s authors approached us asking if we would participate in the research, we encouraged our members who had been residents of any Mother and Baby Home to come forward and share their story. With regards to our own history, we will need to reflect on the findings of this report, and our own association with, for example, what became the Edgar Home in Belfast, which closed some 93 years ago.

“We deeply regret and unreservedly apologise for the damaging effects of institutional care, in which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, or its members, played a part. We pray that those who still live with the memories of those days will know and experience the peace of God which may only be found in Christ’s love.”

"They deserved much better"

The Church of Ireland's Most Revd John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, said: "Having had a chance to read the relevant chapters of the report, I acknowledge with shame that members of the Church of Ireland stigmatised women and children in a way which was very far removed from Christian principles and which resulted in an unloving, cold, and judgmental attitude towards pregnant women who deserved better.

"The birth of a child should always be a time for happiness, and that many young women experienced it as joyless and cold is a matter for bitter regret.  I am sorry and apologise for the role we played in treating unmarried women and their children in this way. They deserved much better.

"The Church of Ireland will be giving the report further careful consideration, and we would encourage any individuals or agencies who have relevant knowledge and records to co–operate fully with the independent investigation."

Deep regret

A spokesperson for Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, which operated three St. Mary’s Homes with adjacent Laundries in Derry, Belfast, and Newry, said: “This was not a good experience for everyone and we wish that we could have done more for the women in our care at such a critical time in their lives.

“We deeply regret that we could not and did not always meet the multifaceted needs of these women.

“We will need more time to review the contents of the report in detail and we will affording the independent investigation, announced this evening, our fullest co-operation.”