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Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver.

Vancouver apologizes for post-war forced adoptions

  • May 11, 2022

VANCOUVER -- The Archdiocese of Vancouver released an apology on Mother’s Day weekend for its role in what has been called Canada’s “post-war adoption mandate” that led to the forced separation of unmarried mothers from their children.

The apology, released May 6, said in 1933 the Archdiocese of Vancouver founded a home for unmarried mothers where many women were pressured to give up their babies. The Our Lady of Mercy Home for unmarried mothers, under the direction of the Superintendent of Child Welfare of the Province of British Columbia, offered unwed pregnant mothers “a place to stay, arrangements for medical care, counselling, financial planning and temporary foster care for those who needed time to plan their future and make decisions about the care of their child, including adoption.”

The archdiocese’s apology said, “We now know that many of these mothers faced pressures that adoption was the only choice.”

The archdiocese’s role “in any pressured and coerced adoptions created a legacy of pain and suffering,” said the statement. “We contributed to a culture of shame, guilt and secrecy, which often led to pain and isolation.”

The archdiocese said Canadian societal customs from the 1940s through the 1970s did not regard an unwed mother as a responsible parent.

“To our regret we acted on that conviction. Our participation in a system that separated a young unmarried mother from her newly born child was, we now acknowledge, a practice that caused great harm and hurt. We are truly sorry for participating in that practice.”

Besides the long-term suffering of the mothers, the archdiocese apologized for the pain experienced by the children, saying, “We have heard your stories of grief and deep loss. We have heard how you lived with the shame and stigma placed on you by society and the Church. We are truly sorry.”

The apology also acknowledged the hurt caused to family members, from fathers to “brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and members of extended families who have shared in the pain of their loved ones.”

In 2020, The B.C. Catholic published a series of investigative articles examining the historical context in which women were separated from their children and the profound effects it had on them. The newspaper reported the Catholic Children’s Aid Society operated under the direction of the Superintendent of Child Welfare of the Province of British Columbia from 1905 to 1973, receiving funds from the B.C. government, various municipalities, families and local Catholics. It began providing services to unmarried mothers in 1911 and founded the Our Lady of Mercy Home for unmarried mothers and infants 22 years later. Research found the society estimated 60 per cent of mothers using its “unmarried parent services” were giving up their children for adoption in the B.C.

In 2021 J. Michael Miller offered a Mother’s Day message with prayers for mothers who were coerced into giving their children up for adoption and for all women who find the day painful.

The archdiocese noted it has taken several steps in response including initiating training for Catholic counsellors, social workers and psychologists on adoption issues and worked with mothers and adoptees to create a link on its website for those impacted by adoptions.

The archdiocese said it would take several more steps including publish the apology publicly, offer therapy for mothers who stayed at Our Lady of Mercy Home and their children, continue training counsellors, social workers, priests and staff on adoption-related issues and share the apology with parishes, dioceses and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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