An East Cork Campaigner who spent eight months in Bessborough, the largest Mother and Baby Home in the State, is calling for “action” rather than words from the Catholic Church. As the largest gathering of the faithful here in almost 40 years came to an end on Sunday, a crowd of just 130,000 heard the Holy Father fulfil a promise to survivors of abuse, as he asked for forgiveness for abuses they suffered.
For Joan McDermott from Midleton the Pontiff's words held very little “solas.” She said the Pope’s claim that he was “unaware” of Mother and Baby Homes" did nothing only infuriate the survivors. At one point the Bessborough facility in which Ms McDermott was incarcerated, recorded an 82% infant death rate. In 1944, alone the Blackrock Home recorded 124 births, reporting 102 had died.
In contrast to the Papal visit, thousands in Cork, Dublin and Tuam turned out for rallies in solidarity of victims of abuse, sending an important message to Church and State that they are not forgetting those who were imprisoned in Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes. Joan McDermott said that, while she never expected an apology, she would have preferred the Pope to have been “accountable” and “acknowledge the Church’s wrongdoing.” Ms McDermott said if the Curia were serious, Canon Law must be changed, outlawing the abuses of the past, holding those responsible and those who concealed the abusers, to task. “The rule book needs to be changed. Just because you are shrouded in the frock of Catholicism doesn’t mean you are exempt from any misdemeanours against children” she said.
In a hand written letter in what is the Church’s most comprehensive response to date,Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the clerical and institutional abuses carried out by members of the Church, and those who enabled its cover-up. “Forgiveness of the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, conscience and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the Church. In a special way we ask pardon for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions” he prayed.
Ms McDermott said the Government need to do more to make the religious organisation accountable in terms of redress, while also accusing the Government of time wasting and waiting for survivors to die before justice is done. For almost half a century the Irish State assisted in the trafficking of children, born out of wedlock, across the world to new lives.
Many children born in the Institutions were given false Birth Certificates, making it harder for the women to track their children down later in life. Mixed race and special needs babies were not put up for adoption, because they were not considered good commodities, and many were sent to Industrial Schools.