The head of the Irish Catholic Church unreservedly apologised to victims of church-run homes following the publication of a damning inquiry on Tuesday and praised them for bringing to light "a dark chapter in the life of Church and society".
"I accept that the Church was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatised, judged and rejected," Archbishop Eamon Martin said in a statement after the report found thousands of infants died in the homes for unwed mothers and their offspring from the 1920s to the 1990s.
"For that, and for the long-lasting hurt and emotional distress that has resulted, I unreservedly apologise to the survivors and to all those who are personally impacted by the realities it uncovers," Martin said.
The homes run by the Roman Catholic Church had an "appalling" mortality rate that reflected brutal living conditions, the report said.
The inquiry, which covered 18 so-called Mother and Baby Homes where over decades young pregnant women were hidden from society, is the latest in a series of government-commissioned investigations that have laid bare some of the Catholic Church's darkest chapters.
Around 9,000 children died in all, Tuesday's report found - a mortality rate of 15%. The proportion of children who died before their first birthday in one home, Bessborough, in County Cork, was as high as 75% in 1943.
Infants were taken from mothers and sent overseas to be adopted. Children were vaccinated without consent.
Anonymous testimony from residents compared the institutions to prisons where they were verbally abused by nuns as "sinners" and "spawn of Satan". Women suffered through traumatic labours without any pain relief.
One recalled "women screaming, a woman who had lost her mind, and a room with small white coffins".
Relatives have alleged the babies were mistreated because they were born to unmarried mothers who, like their children, were seen as a stain on the Republic of Ireland's image as a devout Catholic nation. The inquiry said those admitted included girls as young as 12.
Government records show that the mortality rate for children at the homes where 56,000 women and girls, including victims of rape and incest, were sent to give birth, was often more than five times that of those born to married parents.
"The report makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture, where a pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future," Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman said.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin will make a formal apology to those affected by the scandal in parliament this week for what he described as "a dark, difficult and shameful chapter of very recent Irish history".
The government said it would provide financial compensation and advance long-promised laws to excavate some of the remains and grant residents, including many adoptees, greater access to personal information that has long been out of their reach.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)