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Vatican indicates support to exhume babies at Irish home

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican has indicated its support for a campaign to provide a proper Christian burial for hundreds of babies and toddlers by first exhuming their bodies from the grounds of a Catholic-run Irish home for unwed mothers.

The Vatican’s ambassador to Ireland, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, said in a Wednesday letter to the amateur Irish historian behind the campaign that he shared the views of the archbishop of Tuam, Ireland, Michael Neary.

Neary has said it was a “priority” for him to re-inter the babies’ bodies in consecrated ground. If the Irish government refuses to authorize the exhumations, Neary promised to bless the ground where they were originally buried.

Historian Catherine Corless has been campaigning since 2014 to give the babies a dignified burial after she tracked down the death certificates for nearly 800 children who died at the home in the town of Tuam, north of Galway, but couldn’t find corresponding burial records.

Excavations of the site in 2017 showed “significant quantities of human remains” in a 20-chamber underground structure near a decommissioned sewage tank. DNA analysis confirmed the ages of the dead children ranged from 35 weeks gestation to 3 years and were buried chiefly in the 1950s.

The Tuam home, which was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours order of Catholic nuns, closed in 1961.

Based on Corless’ research, the Irish government instituted a commission of inquiry in 2015 into the Tuam facility and several other mother and baby homes where unwed mothers, orphans and children whose parents couldn’t care for them were housed.

It was part of a process of reckoning in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Ireland to come to terms with a history of abuses in Catholic-run institutions, including the shunning and shaming of unwed mothers, many of whom were pressured into giving up babies for adoption.

The commission is only looking into burial arrangements at the homes. It said in its most recent interim report more than a year ago that it still couldn’t understand why the babies and young children buried outside the one in Tuam were handled in such an “inappropriate manner.” The commission said local Galway authorities bore “particular responsibility” since they owned the home.

Seeking to nudge the government to finally honor the Tuam children and bring closure to their relatives, Corless wrote last month to the Vatican ambassador asking his views. She had been heartened by Pope Francis’ horror when he learned about the Tuam burials during his 2018 visit to Ireland.

“My query to you is, as papal nuncio, do you think it proper in the name of Jesus to allow these little souls (they are all baptized) to be left in a sewage tank, or do you agree that they be exhumed and given a Christian burial?” Corless wrote Okolo on Monday.

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