Irish government approves excavation of Catholic orphanage mass grave site

Irish government approves excavation of Catholic orphanage mass grave site

Irish government approves excavation of Catholic orphanage mass grave site

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone announces the forensic excavation of the site of a former mother and baby's home in Tuam, at Government Buildings in Dublin. (Credit: Niall Carson/PA via AP.)

Ireland's government has approved a forensic excavation of a Catholic-run orphanage where a mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of children was discovered.

LONDON, United Kingdom — Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone announced Tuesday the excavation and recovery of remains. There will be a respectful burial where possible, she said.

The excavation, which will begin after legislation is passed, follows a report from a judge-led commission that confirmed last year that the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, had an underground sewage structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains.”

RELATED: Ireland says Church ‘should pay’ to address baby deaths

Church-run homes in Ireland housed orphans, unmarried pregnant women and their babies for most of the 20th century. The institutions have been subject to intense public scrutiny since a local historian in 2014 tracked down death certificates for nearly 800 children who had died as residents of the facility — but could find a burial record for only one child.

Investigators later found a mass grave containing remains of babies and young children from 35 weeks to 3-years-old on the grounds of the home, which closed in 1961.

Zappone raised the mass grave scandal with Pope Francis when he visited Ireland in August, calling it a “shameful chapter of recent Irish history.” The pope urged the Irish Church to make reparations to the home’s survivors for its role.

RELATED: Archbishop says Pope Francis “visibly upset” by children’s unmarked graves at care home

Responding to a question about the Tuam home on the flight back from Ireland, Francis said he accepted Zappone’s lament as “constructive collaboration” and that he would read a memo she prepared for him on the government’s investigation.

During his visit to Ireland, Francis met with some adult adoptees who were forcibly taken from their unwed biological mothers at birth. They urged him to denounce the practice, demand an apology from the religious sisters responsible and assure the mothers they could search now for their lost children without fear of sin.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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