LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s top prelate has “unreservedly apologized” to those mistreated in Church-run homes for unwed mothers after a scathing report issued by a government commission.

The Mother and Baby Homes Report looked into the state-funded homes, where around 9,000 children died during the 20th century, usually due to the quick spread of disease in the crowded facilities.

On Tuesday, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin blamed Ireland’s “perverse religious morality” for the harm done to young women and their children.

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In a statement, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said the Church “was clearly part of that culture in which people were frequently stigmatized, judged and rejected.”

“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,” the archbishop said.

“Mindful of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which calls us to protect life and dignity and to treat everyone – especially little children and all who are vulnerable  – with love, compassion and mercy, I believe the Church must continue to acknowledge before the Lord and before others its part in sustaining what the Report describes as a ‘harsh … cold and uncaring atmosphere’,” the archbishop said.

The report reviewed conditions in 18 institutions from 1922 to 1998, and was commissioned by the government after reports on the deaths of around 800 infants at a home run by the Bon Secours Sisters in the Archdiocese of Tuam.

The report found that in some years in the 1930s and 1940s, over 40 percent of the children in mother and baby homes were dying before their first birthday.

Archbishop Martin acknowledged the report was “distressing” and called for people to reflect on it in the coming days.

“The commission’s report helps to further open to the light what was for many years a hidden part of our shared history and it exposes the culture of isolation, secrecy and social ostracizing which faced ‘unmarried mothers’ and their children in this country,” he said.

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“Together we must ask: How could this happen? We must identify, accept and respond to the broader issues which the report raises about our past, present and future. Above all we must continue to find ways of reaching out to those whose personal testimonies are central to this report. They have shown determination in bringing to light this dark chapter in the life of Church and society,” the archbishop continued.

He also called on the Irish government to remove “any remaining obstacles” to survivors accessing information about themselves.

“The report makes it clear that many are still learning about their personal stories and searching for family members. The rights of all survivors to access personal information about themselves should be fully respected,” the archbishop said.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome