Fianna Fail health spokesperson Billy Kelleher has called for clarity on so-called “tandem burials,” when bodies of babies were placed alongside the remains of unrelated adults in coffins by hospitals.
Part of the practice was to ensure un-baptized babies would be buried in consecrated ground.
At one stage in Ireland, the Catholic Church’s tradition stipulated that un-baptized babies could not be buried in sacred ground and that their souls would go to Limbo, an in-between place where they could neither see God nor be reunited with their parents.
The church’s outlook on that has been amended in recent years.
National broadcaster RTE obtained the information on “tandem burials” last week under the Freedom of Information Act.
“These revelations raise a number of questions about certain practices in hospitals. The information, while vague, will be very distressing for families who may have placed their faith in their local hospital to bury their loved one,” Kelleher said.
The tandem burials happened at a limited number of hospitals in Ireland up to the 1980s.
The first case of a tandem burial came to light during a recent review by the HSE, the national health authority.
The case involved a mother who gave birth in the 1980s at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise and who sought details of where the remains of her baby had been buried.
It emerged that the baby was placed in a coffin at the hospital alongside the remains of an unrelated adult for burial.
HSE director general Tony O’Brien said in a letter in August that it was not certain that the families of both of the deceased would always have been informed of the practice.
His letter to a former secretary general of the Department of Health, said, “Our understanding is that the remains would have been placed with adult remains and that, ideally, the awareness and understanding of both families involved would have been sought, though this is not guaranteed.”
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI revised the concept of Limbo.
He approved a document published that year by the Vatican’s International Theological Commission which said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven.
The document said the traditional concept of Limbo, as a place where un-baptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God, seemed to reflect an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.”