- 02 May 19
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik has called on the Government to take financial action against the relevant religious orders, following the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Inquiry’s latest damning revelations.
Senator Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party has called for financial action to be taken against religious orders, in the wake of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation’s fifth interim report.
Among the most shocking findings in the report, released last week, was the revelation that, out of 900 children who died at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork, between 1922 and 1998, only 64 burials are accounted for. That leaves 836 bodies that have effectively been ‘lost’, in a home run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
“It’s absolutely appalling,” Bacik told Hot Press. “There have been witnesses from the [Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary] order saying that they can’t recall any children dying over periods in which the Commission knows children have died in the their care. What’s shocking is not only how many children died over this period, but that the Order have been so obstructive of attempts to uncover information.”
In 2017, the discovery of a mass, unmarked grave at the site of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam shocked the nation and became a major news item across the wider world. However, this latest revelation that the whereabouts of over 800 Irish children who died at Bessborough are unknown raises even more serious questions about the disgraceful behaviour of the religious orders, into whose care children, for better or worse, were given.
After the Mother and Baby Homes Commission’s interim report was delivered to Cabinet last week week, Taoiseach Leo Varadker admitted that Ireland “inherits a deep shame” over these findings.
“The religious orders bear enormous responsibilities,” Ivana Bacik says, “but clearly, the State does also bear responsibility. The State was colluding with religious orders, and the religious orders were doing a job that should have been done by the State. So this is a shame that we should all feel, collectively.”
However, the responsibility of the religious orders cannot be overstated. As Professor Mary E. Daly, a member of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Inquiry said in the RTÉ documentary, Rome v Republic, the actions of the State were defined by their innate deference to the authority of the Catholic Church. It was the Church’s scorn for the unmarried mothers, and for their children, which decided their fate, and their treatment.
Ivana Bacik cites Mary Rafferty’s 2002 documentary Cardinal Secrets, the Ryan Commission’s report in 2009, and the incredible work of Christine Buckley, as landmark moments along the way to our understanding of the staggering scale of the abuses perpetrated by the religious orders.
“There have been a whole series of different events over the years,” the Trinity College senator reflects, “in which the true extent of the abuses of children and women by religious orders, church authorities and indeed State authorities have been exposed and uncovered. This includes the abuse in the Magdalene Laundries, the Mother and Baby Homes, and the industrial schools. We’re still finding out more about the truth.”
Bacik argues that more political, moral and financial pressure must now be placed on the government – and, crucially, on the religious orders that were involved in the abuse, and in the subsequent cover-ups.
“I think it’s beholden on all of us who are political representatives to raise this issue in the Dáil and in the Seanad,” she says. “Ultimately, however, we need to take financial action. The (religious) orders have escaped by paying far less than they should have paid for the Redress Board. As a barrister, I acted for many survivors before the Redress Board, so I’m very familiar with the processes, but we were all aware that the State was picking up the vast proportion of the bill.”
That, Ivana Bacik argues, is wrong.
“The State certainly had obligations to survivors,” she adds, “but there should have been far more (of a contribution) due from the religious orders. We need to see the religious orders sanctioned financially, and their assets seized by the State. That’s where we should be at now.”
The Church’s declining influence in Irish society was clear during Pope Francis’ visit last summer, with numerous demonstrations taking place around the country in solidarity with survivors of clerical abuse.
“It’s very disappointing how little the Pope and the Vatican have appeared to make any sort of apology or acknowledgement of the Church’s role in not only the Mother and Baby Homes, but in other religious-run institutions,” Bacik says. “There’s been an abdication of responsibility by the Vatican, over successive Popes.”
All the more reason to look to the law. The Church authorities will be forced to respond if the assets of the religious orders are frozen. That should be the next step. And after that, there remains the possibility of criminal proceedings. Perhaps that prospect might spur a more meaningful response from the Pope and his cohorts. It might be far too little, and far too late. But it would at least be something.