The Archbishop of Tuam has called for the probe into the scandal of mother and baby homes to be widened beyond religious orders.
Archbishop Michael Neary also apologised for the role of the Catholic church "as part of that time and society" when "particular children and their mothers were not welcomed, they were not wanted and they were not loved".
The Archbishop delivered a homily at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam yesterday, near where children's remains were discovered on the site of what was St Mary's mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours sisters.
Speaking yesterday, he said there is "an urgent need for an enquiry to examine all aspects of life at the time, broadening the focus from one particular religious congregation, and instead addressing the roles and interrelationships between church, State, local authorities and society generally."
The Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, has already promised to look at broadening the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes to cover all institutions, agencies and individuals who were involved with Ireland's unmarried mothers and their children.
The Commission was launched after research by local historian, Catherine Corless, who believed that 796 babies were buried at the site of the home. The Commission announced 10 days ago that children's remains had been found in an underground structure on the site.
The Archbishop of Tuam said yesterday that reports of high levels of mortality and malnutrition at the Tuam mother and baby home were "particularly harrowing".
He said: "It was an era when unmarried mothers, as our society at the time labelled women who were pregnant and not married, were often judged, stigmatised and ostracised by their own community and the church, and this all happened in a harsh and unforgiving climate.
"Compassion, understanding and mercy were sorely lacking."
He said it was timely "that this dimension of our social history be addressed and thoroughly examined", adding: "To do so would begin the process of attempting to explain, but not to excuse, what happened in our not-too-distant collective past.