Friday 18 October 2019

Pope responds to Zappone on Tuam babies controversy

Pontiff puts pressure on orders but ignores request for funds

PRAYER: The Pope meeting Minister Katherine Zappone. Picture: PA
PRAYER: The Pope meeting Minister Katherine Zappone. Picture: PA
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Pope Francis has put pressure on Irish religious orders to accept responsibility for the horrific treatment of children who died in mother and baby homes, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

In a letter to Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, which has been exclusively obtained by this newspaper, the Pontiff also suggests the Government should accept its role in the scandal which was sparked by the discovery of children's remains in an disused sceptic tank linked to the Bon Secours congregation.

The Pope said he offered "prayerful solidarity and concern" for what he described as the "sad situation" arising from the work of the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes.

"I pray in particular that efforts made by the Government and by local churches and religious congregations will help face responsibly this tragic chapter in Ireland's history," the Pope added.

The Pope was responding to a letter from Ms Zappone in which she called on the church to "contribute substantially" to the cost involved in the Commission of Investigation.

In her correspondence, the minister said the church should accept its "responsibility and make reparation for its part in a very shameful chapter of Irish history".

However, in his letter on official Vatican headed paper, the Pope makes no reference to Ms Zappone's demand for financial resources.

"I wish to express my sincere appreciation for your recent letter in which you described the work of the Commission of Investigation.

"Gladly recalling my visit to Ireland and our conversation together, I want you to know that I will pray for you, your loved ones and for your important work at he service of Ireland," he added.

The Commission of Investigation is examining the historical practices at 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes.

The Bon Secours religious order offered €2.5m towards the cost of excavating the Tuam mother and baby home, where it has been established children were buried in a sewer system. Ms Zappone has estimated the cost of excavating the entire site at between €6m and €13m. The Government has asked the Bon Secours order for a larger financial contribution to cost of removing the remains.

The minister previously described the Bon Secours offer as a contribution to costs but said it was "not a settlement" and "not an indemnity".

The Pope's intervention could put pressure on the Bon Secours and other religious orders involved in the scandal to contribute more funding towards the mammoth investigation into mother and baby homes.

Yesterday, Minister Zappone's spokesperson said the minister was "happy" to receive the Pope's letter.

"She believes that raising the issue of Tuam brought an awareness of what happened to the Pope's attention and that he has thought about it," he said.

"It is good that the leader of the church is aware of and understands the role of the church. This is important in addressing our past."

"The minister thinks it is possible because of his reference to the congregations that he is aware of the offer by the Bon Secours Sisters," he added.

Sunday Independent

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