“To you, the mothers who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we apologise. We say sorry to you, the mothers who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent. You were given false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal."
The apology also acknowledged "the profound effects" on fathers and the sons and daughters who grew up not knowing how much they were wanted and loved.
In the apology, Julia Gillard said, "no collection of words alone can undo all this damage. But by saying sorry we can correct the historical record. We can declare that these mothers did nothing wrong.”
Some of the submissions to the report into the practice of forced adoptions are heartbreaking:
My mother became hysterical, when she realised I was pregnant, she was bereft about the neighbours, the relatives, and the church members, finding out her daughter was pregnant out-of wedlock … I had to hide in the house, she had contempt for me … It was decided that I go to a home for unmarried mothers, “for a few weeks” so I would not been seen by others who would make judgement (Ms Marilyn Murphy, Submission 150, p. 2).
In 1965 I was sent to “Carramar” Church of England Home for Unwed Mothers … I did not go there on my own freewill. I was woken that morning apparently, I must have been drugged by my mother with a sleeping pill or similar, as I did not come around till I was shaken awake by a Preacher … As we were parked in the driveway facing a two-storey older style building I asked him, “Where are we?” and he said, “This is a home for girls who are pregnant like you to stay till they have their babies”. I was terrified as he led me to the door to be met by a stern looking woman who led me inside (Mrs. Beverley Redlich, Submission 112, p. 1).
If we went into the shops for personal items we were only allowed to go in twos, so as not to upset the home owners in the area who had complained about us ‘walking the streets in our state’, we were a large blot on their pleasant society and the church did not want any trouble. Shopkeepers commented that we were from the local ‘baby factory’ (Ms. Angela Brown, Submission 402, p. 1).
The following is an excerpt from an adopted child.
I remember a time after returning to Australia at age 14. I was being belted so hard and so many times, I remember the belt wrapping around my neck once. During my adoption I still spent most of the time in boarding schools and church hostels (Mr. Wayne Lewis, Submission 408, p. 3).
Christine Cole, the head of the Apology Alliance who lost a child through forced adoption, told ABC television the words were long overdue: “I had my baby taken from me in 1969, and I think the use of the term forced adoption polarises the actual phenomena of what was going on. What was going on was kidnapping children, kidnapping newborn babies from their mothers at the birth, using pillows and sheets to cover their face, drugging them as I was drugged, with drugs like sodium pentothal, chloral hydrate and other mind-altering barbiturates. It was cruel, it was punitive and then often the mother was transported like I was away from the hospital so you had no access to your baby.”
What can we learn from this blot on Australia’s history? Firstly, to make sure the Prime Minister’s promise is kept: “We can promise that no generation of Australian will suffer the same pain and trauma that you did.” And yet the direction Australia is moving in with surrogacy laws will break the promise – future generations will grow up not knowing who their biological father or mother is.
Secondly, the Australia of the 1950s to 1970s is described as “a conservative and predominantly Christian nation and religious groups largely drove the adoptions.” This is something that Christians and churches need to understand because it was often church groups and church-run hospitals, hostels and care facilities that were directly involved in the injustices. Recognising this the Catholic Church apologized in July 2011. The Uniting Church has also accepted responsibility for this practice. Anglicare says it apologised in the 2000 “Releasing the past” report for abuse at the Carramar maternity home.
It seems to me (as a conservative Christian) that conservative Christianity has much to apologize for. In fact one pastor in the USA taught a series called “Confessions of a sinful church”. They included:
Apology #1 – We’re sorry for our self-righteousness and hypocrisy
Apology #2 – We’re sorry for our endorsement of slavery
Apology #3 – We’re sorry for our mistreatment of homosexuals
Apology #4 – We’re sorry for the Medieval Crusades
Apology #5 – We’re sorry for saying the earth is flat
We could add to these apologies: we’re sorry for our oppression of women; for our refusal to recognise marriage between different races; for treating divorced people as second-class Christians; for saying that we’re all sinners saved by grace and yet showing contempt for those who are still in sin.
Christians have done a lot of good though the centuries and added great value to the world in which we live, but we’ve also got it wrong on more than one occasion. This has been highlighted by last week’s apology by our Prime Minister. We are sorry for the things we’ve got wrong. I’m just hoping – and praying – that we don’t have too much more to apologise for in the future.