Cardinal apologises over adoption of babies born to unmarried mothers

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The head of the Catholic Church in Britain has apologised for hurt caused to young unmarried mothers who say they were pressured into giving up their babies for adoption in the years after the Second World War.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, said practices by adoption agencies acting in the name of the Catholic Church were "lacking in care and sensitivity", along with those of other religious and state organisations involved in adoption during that period.

It comes as lawyers investigating the issue called on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to launch a public inquiry into the scandal.

The Cardinal's apology features in an ITV documentary, Britain's Adoption Scandal: Breaking The Silence, in which women speak about their traumatic experiences of having their babies adopted via the Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Salvation Army, among other organisations.

Following allegations made in the programme, the Cardinal said: "The Catholic Church understands and acknowledges the grief and pain caused by the giving up of a child through adoption.

"The practices of all adoption agencies reflected the social values at that time and were sometimes lacking in care and sensitivity. We apologise for the hurt caused by agencies acting in the name of the Catholic Church."

Carolynn Gallwey, from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, is preparing a case for an inquiry into the issue.

She said: "These women were told not to speak about what had happened to them. But now they're entitled to have their experiences recognised and the only way to do that is through a public inquiry."

In 1976 a change in the law gave local authorities responsibility for handling adoptions in Britain.

But in the 30 years before half a million adoptions took place, mostly of babies born to young unmarried mothers. Most were overseen by voluntary organisations, the majority of which were religious and whose social workers were known as moral welfare officers.

:: Britain's Adoption Scandal: Breaking The Silence is on ITV at 9pm on November 9.