Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone says the Catholic Church “should contribute substantially” to survivor reparations from a now abandoned church-run orphanage where an unmarked mass grave full of children’s remains was recently discovered.
Zappone spoke about the request with Pope Francis on Saturday during his visit to attend the World Meeting of Families. On Monday, she released a statement to the pontiff supporting her monetary appeal.
The Catholic church once ran homes around Ireland housing orphans, unmarried pregnant women and their babies for most of the 1900s. In 2014, a local historian and authorities discovered a mass grave at a Galway County orphanage containing the remains of hundreds of babies and young children aged 35 weeks to three years. The home had been closed down in 1961.
“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,” Zappone wrote. “I believe that the church should contribute substantially to the cost of whatever option is decided by the government… Nothing less will demonstrate remorse.”
Hundreds of protesters in Tuam, where the unmarked grave was found, came out on Sunday in support of Zappone, reciting the names of the 796 babies and young children who died at the home. They placed hundreds of pairs of infant shoes around a tiny white coffin at the burial site.
Pope Francis said he accepted Zappone’s comments as “constructive collaboration” and that he would read her memo.
During the pope’s Sunday prayer in Knock, near Tuam, he denounced how Irish children were “robbed of their innocence and taken from their mothers” during Ireland’s years of forced adoptions.
Some survivors also want to exhume the children’s remains to give them a proper church burial.
“There was little compassion shown to children and their mothers in this home,” Zappone wrote. “We cannot change what happened to them. For the little ones whose remains are in a sewage system, we owe them dignity in death. For their mothers, siblings and families, we need to give them some peace.”