THE VATICAN has indicated it is supportive of calls to give a proper Christian burial to hundreds of babies and toddlers buried in the grounds of a Catholic-run Irish home for unwed mothers.
Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican's ambassador to Ireland, has said he shares the views of the archbishop of Tuam, Ireland, Michael Neary, who has said it is a "priority" for the bodies of those young children buried at Tuam Mother and Baby Home to be re-interred into consecrated ground.
In the event that the Irish government refuses to give the go-ahead to any exhumations, the Archbishop of Tuam has also pledged to bless the ground where the children were originally buried.
Archbishop Okolo's comments came in response to a letter from historian Catherine Corless.
Corless has been campaigning for the babies buried there to be given a dignified burial after uncovering the death certificates of nearly 800 children who died at the home in Tuam, north Galway.
Despite tracking down their death certificates, the historian could find no records of their formal burial during her research several years ago.
A subsequent excavation of the site where the home was built found "significant quantities of human remains" in a 20-chamber underground structure close to a decommissioned sewage tank.
Further DNA analysis confirmed that the remains was that of several children aged anywhere between 35 weeks' gestation or three years.
The tests also confirmed that the bodies were mainly buried there in the 1950s, around the time the Tuam home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours order of Catholic nuns was in operation.
The home closed in 1961.
In the wake of Corless’ findings a government inquiry was launched in 2015 into goings on at the Tuam facility and several other mother and baby homes for unwed women, orphans and children.
Earlier this month, Corless wrote to Archbishoph Okolo asking if he agreed that it was time to exhume the Tuam babies and give them a proper Christian burial.
"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?”
Two days later, on July 15, he responded in a letter Corless subsequently shared with The Associated Press.
He quoted Neary, who previously said "it remains a priority for me, in cooperation with the families of the deceased, to seek to obtain a dignified re-internment of the remains of the children in consecrated grounds in Tuam."
"I share his views," Okolo added. "It is my conviction that through sincere love, a calm mind, clear-sightedness and mutual understanding, everyone concerned can cooperate to rectify the mistakes of the past."
The Tuam home operated from 1935 to 1961, during which time hundreds of children here died of malnutrition and infectious diseases. They were buried in a mass grave at the site.
In 2018, the then-Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the Tuam site would be fully exhumed pending the publication of the commission's report into the running of the home.
However, the publication of the report has been delayed, leaving the site largely intact.
When Pope Francis learned of what occurred at the Tuam site during a visit to Ireland in 2018, he called on Irish priests to "seek a cure, reparation, and all that is necessary to heal the wounds and give life back to so many people."
While the Sisters of Bon Secour have offered to contribute funds to the exhumation of the site, the Irish government has estimated it could cost between 6 million and 13 million euros.