Sunday 26 May 2019

Zappone asks Pope for €2.5m to give Tuam babies 'dignity'

Minister's letter calls for practical reparation

Pope Francis meets Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, along with President Higgins and his wife Sabina. Photo: PA
Pope Francis meets Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, along with President Higgins and his wife Sabina. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone wants the Vatican to contribute up to €2.5m as part reparation for its role in the Tuam mother and baby home scandal.

In a two-page letter to Pope Francis, the minister asked the Church to "contribute substantially" to one of five potential options for dealing with the home's legacy.

The Government is weeks away from deciding on the future of the site, with options ranging from a simple memorial to a full-scale forensic and archaeological excavation.

The latter could cost between €3m and €5m and involve the exhumation of remains over a two-year period.

Ms Zappone briefed the pontiff on the story of Tuam in Italian when they met at Áras an Uachtaráin on Saturday.

She then handed over a letter which gave greater detail about the hundreds of "little ones whose remains are in a sewage system".

The memo also asked that the Church contributes to the cost of giving the babies some "dignity in death".

Although she didn't put a figure on her demand, the Irish Independent understands she wants at least half of the costs to be covered by the Catholic Church.

"It is my strong conviction that given the role of the Church in this shameful chapter of recent Irish history, it must play a practical role in addressing the hurt and damage," the letter said.

Pope Francis was also advised: "This should be done willingly, unconditionally and quickly. Nothing less will demonstrate remorse."

There was surprise in Dublin Castle on Saturday when the pontiff went off-script at a civic reception to say that the words of the Children's Minister were echoing in his ears.

On his flight back to Rome, he again expressed a willingness to engage in relation to the Tuam scandal.

He told reporters that Ms Zappone explained that an investigation was underway into the "mass graves of children".

"But she said it very politely and truly with a lot of respect. I thanked her to the point that this had touched my heart," Pope Francis said.

He described the minister's contribution as "balanced", adding that it was an example of "constructive collaboration" and "complaint".

"That lady had a dignity that touched my heart, and now I have the memo there that I will study when I get home," Pope Francis said.

The memo outlines how mother and baby homes came to public attention here during the summer of 2014 "following a series of disturbing reports of high mortality rates".

Analysis at the site in Tuam determined that the remains buried there are between 35 foetal weeks and two to three years of age.

From carbon dating, it has correlated the age of these samples with the time period during which the home was in operation - between 1925 and 1961. It is believed there could be up to 800 infant bodies discarded there.

"This news was met with widespread disgust both in Ireland and abroad," Ms Zappone's letter states.

"We also owe it to the families of these children to now do the right thing by their loved ones."

Historian Catherine Corless, who was central to the discovery of the remains, welcomed the minister's direct intervention with the Pope.

"I am very thankful to Minister Zappone for what she has done for the Tuam site in the last year. The fact that she spoke to the Pope when she got the chance, we are very, very thankful to her," she said.

Ms Corless said the survivors of the Tuam home want the Government to exhume the bodies, no matter what the cost implications. She argued the €5m bill is not particularly large when compared with the €25m-plus that the State spent on the Pope's visit.

Irish Independent

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