The response of Down and Connor Diocese

Statement from Diocese of Down and Connor to Kathryn Torney (The Detail)

"It is always a matter of deep sadness when a baby or child dies. The sense of loss to a family and often a wider community is deeply felt. When we hear of the number of deaths of children and babies in 1942, at this distance in time, our hearts go out to those who endured and carried the trauma of the loss of their babies and children. All life is a gift and during a time of war, when so many lost their lives, the deaths of these children can so easily be forgotten. We acknowledge the loss and express our deep sadness for the sorrow that these deaths caused at the time and in the years that followed.

In 1884 the Sisters of Nazareth opened ‘Nazareth House’ on the Ormeau Road in Belfast to care for girls placed into adoption. A few years later, in 1900, ‘Nazareth Lodge’, Belfast, was opened for boys by the Sisters of Nazareth as a separate community, and was registered as an industrial school in 1902 where it served as an industrial school for boys until 1951.

The homes originally provided only for older children but there was a need to also provide a home for babies and younger children. The first baby was admitted to Nazareth Lodge on 16 October 1934, when the home took on the role of providing a diocesan service for babies. A purpose-built nursery named ‘Bethlehem’ was later established within the precincts of Nazareth Lodge with places for up to 90 babies. This was a Diocesan babies’ home staffed by the Sisters of Nazareth. These homes relied very heavily on charitable donations and the voluntary care provided by the Sisters.

It is a matter of deep regret that the homes were unable to provide the requisite care for the children and the recent HIAI [Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry] Report noted that as state funding and training improved the facilities and care also improved.

In 1953, St Joseph’s baby home was opened, superseding the Bethlehem wing at Nazareth Lodge and provided a new facility within the diocese which was staffed by the Sisters of Nazareth.

On 31 May 1984 Nazareth House, Belfast, was closed, having accommodated 2,909 children since its opening in 1876. It continued to care for older people until 2000, when it finally closed. In 1999, Nazareth Lodge, which had accommodated 3,708 children since its opening in 1900, was closed.

Speaking last January 2017, upon the publication of the findings of the HIA Inquiry, Bishop Noel Treanor apologised for the systemic failings identified in the provision of care by the Diocese of Down and Connor in its duty of care:

“It is with a profound sense of shame and horror that I acknowledge the harrowing findings of this report; it shows and concludes that there were pervasive systemic failures leading to the abuse of children over many decades within institutional care homes run by the Church, the state and other voluntary organisations.

In the name of and on behalf of the Diocese of Down and Connor, I apologise wholeheartedly, unconditionally and unreservedly to all those who suffered physical, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse and who have carried the heavy burden and dark legacy of such appalling experiences from childhood.”

The further findings drawn to our attention on the foot of an investigation undertaken by ‘The Detail’ into the death of 43 young children in 1942 in the care of the diocese add further to our shame. These findings demonstrate how as a Church and as a society we have failed to protect the most vulnerable members of our community. In life and in death, children should be treated with the utmost care, dignity and respect.

Lack of resources, restricted financial support, the historical context of war, the poor nutrition available at the time, disease and the societal destitution prevalent at that time will have all played a part. However no simple explanation can be provided to explain away the deaths of these children, nor should one be attempted.

The Diocese of Down and Connor notes that there appear to be some discrepancies between the Milltown Cemetery records and those records held by the state in respect of the birth and death certificates.

It is not possible to provide definitive explanations for any discrepancies between its records and those held by the state. In the absence of further information, the Diocese of Down and Connor considers that the details contained within its cemetery burial records are as accurate as possible and consider that they will have been provided by family members or friends of the family. Discrepancies caused by poor literacy and/or possibly inaccurate reporting and recording could explain some inconsistencies along with the fact that it was much more difficult to travel to report to the proper state registry at that time. We do note that the deaths and burials were reported and recorded and that the children were provided with a dignified burial.

The decision to hold a state inquiry into Northern Ireland’s former mother and baby homes is a matter for the Executive. In the event that such an inquiry is called, as in previous inquiries, the Diocese of Down and Connor will fully cooperate with the statutory authorities with their investigation. All diocesan burial records for that period are already in the public forum and can be accessed through PRONI.

Family Care Adoption Services

All adoption files from Nazareth Lodge and Nazareth House, Belfast were transferred to the ‘Family Care Adoption Services’. The files from St Joseph’s Baby Home are held by the Diocese and are accessible to the ‘Family Care Adoption Services’. This agency formerly known as the Catholic Family Care Society (Northern Ireland) has an office located in Belfast at:

97 Malone Avenue, Belfast,

County Antrim, BT9 6EQ

Tel: 028 9069 1133

Family Care Adoption Services offers a comprehensive Post Adoption Service to Adopted and Fostered Adults, and to Adults who were raised in Care. If they hold any records on an individual or about their Adoption, they will be able to provide background information on the birth family, and additional advice, counselling and support.

Bereavement Support

For bereavement support, please contact local clergy and / or Cruse Bereavement Support on 0808 808 1677."

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