Catholic Church put up 30,000 children for adoption without mothers' consent
Created just after World War Two, institutions run by nuns took in underage girls and pregnant unmarried women until the late 1980s. These women were subjected to unpaid labour, humiliating conditions, and in some cases, sexual abuse.
During childbirth, some women were given general anaesthetic while others had to wear a mask – all ways to prevent mothers from seeing their child, who were immediately separated after birth. Some women were even sterilised. Others were forced to sign a document renouncing their child or were told the child was stillborn.
The children were then sold for large sums – between 10,000 and 30,000 Belgian francs (roughly between €250 and €750), sometimes much more – to adoptive families.
Unkept or destroyed files are now making reunion processes extremely difficult, says Debby Mattys (57), who was put up for adoption by the nuns and spent over 20 years looking for her birth mother. "My mother was 18 years old when she had an unwanted pregnancy," she told Het Laaste Nieuws.
"The Church has a crushing responsibility. Not just for what happened in the past – even now they still abuse power by allowing files to disappear or because they do not actively cooperate in the inspection of files. Apologies are nice, but they don't buy us anything."
In 2015, the Bishops' Conference apologised to the victims of forced adoptions in Catholic institutions at the Flemish Parliament.
In response to recent testimonies, the bishops have expressed their compassion for victims' pain and trauma. The Church is calling for an independent investigation into the conditions described by the women involved.