SYDNEY – Three Catholic entities in Australia apologized “with a deep sense of regret and heartfelt sorrow” over forced adoption practices involving thousands of single mothers that occurred in past decades.
The practices involved separating unmarried mothers from their newborn babies immediately after birth and handing them to adoption agencies.
The apology came jointly from Catholic Health Australia, the largest nongovernment provider of health, community and elder care services in Australia, the Sisters of Mercy and the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, about 100 miles north of Sydney.
Despite the apology, Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth said he has “little evidence” of forced adoptions in decades past. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation July 25 that he had spoken with the Sisters of Mercy, who “said that it wasn’t their policy to do that, but you can’t control everybody, I suppose.”
The practice of forced adoption was reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a story on its website after an investigation into claims of abuse and trauma in Newcastle. The story said it was believed that at least 150,000 Australian women had their babies taken against their will by some churches and adoption agencies.
Bishop Hickey issued a follow-up statement July 26 on the Perth archdiocesan website.
“While it is true that I had little evidence of forced consents to adoption, I realize that many of the young women at the time were not clear that their consent was required,” the statement said. “Many were confused, feeling powerless during their pregnancy for fear that their baby would be taken from them.
“Consent obviously became submerged under the weight of other issues being discussed. With the involvement of their parents, priests in some cases, and the sisters, I can well understand that they felt that others around them were making the decisions,” it continued.
The archbishop also offered an apology to the women for the “pain and anguish” they endured.
Some of the practices took place at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, operated for decades by the Sisters of Mercy. In 2006, after 85 years, the Sisters of Mercy handed over the hospital’s operation to the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary, who renamed the facility Calvary Mater Newcastle.
Martin Laverty, chief executive officer of Catholic Health Australia, addressed hospital adoption practices in a letter to the Australian Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs which is investigating past adoption policies and practices. He wrote that “in some cases, the adoption practices of 30 to 60 years ago had devastating and ongoing impacts on mothers, fathers, children and families.”
He told the committee in June that Catholic Health Australia learned of the concerns of several women who were forced to give up their children in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Laverty said a small number of Catholic hospitals and homes for women were involved in the practice.
“We acknowledge the pain of separation and loss felt then and felt now for the mothers, fathers, children, families and others involved in some of the practices of the time,” Laverty said. “For this pain that arises from the practices of the past, we are genuinely sorry.”
Laverty also said there are likely to be other unidentified women in the community who continue to live with pain and grief because of the adoption practices.
“Some have come forward, others may yet do so. We have no adequate method of identifying just how many may have been affected and may come forward,” he said.
“Anecdotal experience is that those who do come forward find accessing their records, making contact with their family members, seeking counseling for their grief and seeking to remedy any wrongs overly complex.
“Catholic Health Australia would endorse a proposal to establish a national framework to aid those dealing with their post adoption circumstances,” he said.
The statement said that there were several options to support the mothers, including access to medical records related to births and adoption records at Calvary Mater Newcastle.