The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has apologised for the "hurt" caused to young unmarried women who were pressured into giving their babies up for adoption in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
The apology comes in a forthcoming ITV documentary about the policy of 'forced adoption', The Guardian reports.
The programme, to be broadcast on ITV on November 9, is entitled Britain's Adoption Scandal: Breaking the Silence. It tells some of the stories of the estimated half a million women who handed their children to "mother and baby homes" and adoption agencies run by the Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Salvation Army.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols recognised the "the grief and pain caused by the giving up of a child through adoption". He added: "Sadly for unmarried mothers, adoption was considered to be in the best interests of the mother and child because of the associated stigma and the lack of support for lone parents."
Nichols said: "The practices of all adoption agencies, whether religious, charitable or state, reflected these attitudes and were sometimes lacking in care and sensitivity. We apologise for the hurt caused by agencies acting in the name of the Catholic Church."
The programme relates the story of Angela, who was sent to a Catholic mother and baby home when she became pregnant at 18. She said: "You had committed the ultimate sin, and as a Catholic it was the worst thing that could possibly have happened to you. So, yes, it did feel like punishment."
Margaret, a young mother who was sent to a Salvation Army maternity home in Leeds, tells of how a member of staff came to collect her baby: "And she [said], 'Don't be silly, you're doing what's best,' and took him from my arms and went, and you're just left in that room crying and not one person came to you. She didn't come back to me after she'd taken the baby."
The Church of England has also apologised for its part in the hurt caused. Speaking to the Guardian, a spokesperson said: "What was thought to be the right thing to do at the time has caused great hurt. That is a matter of great regret."
The Catholic Children's Society – formerly called the Crusade of Rescue – is a charity which seeks to help disadvantaged children and families in the UK. Chief executive Rosemary Keenan said: "When you look back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s, in society in general and in terms of government policy, there was very little support for unmarried mothers, or mothers who were married but had a child by a different man.
"Society's attitudes have changed."
She added: "From looking back at our records from sample years, we estimate that 75 per cent of mothers that came to our organisation kept their babies. But it would have been difficult for them because of the values of wider society. Most women were in a very desperate situation and would have felt pressure from many sources."
Groups like the Catholic Children's Society and Church of England organisations have sought to reconnect birth mothers and their adopted children.
Responding to one of the stories from the ITV programme, the Salvation Army said: "We sincerely sympathise with Margaret's painful memories and can only confirm that her experiences would be different today."