Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey says he has "little evidence" of forced adoption practices in Catholic hospitals despite a national apology delivered by the health arm of the Catholic Church yesterday for "unethical or unlawful" adoption practices of the past.
The Archbishop's comments have angered groups working for the rights of women and children separated through forced adoptions and fly in the face of an official apology for past adoption practices made by the State Government in October last year.
Yesterday, the chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, Martin Laverty, publicly apologised for the role of Catholic hospitals in adoption practices that he said would not be tolerated today.
A Senate inquiry is investigating former forced adoptions and has been told that thousands of babies were taken by government and church authorities from unmarried mothers and put up for adoption in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Archbishop Hickey said if the Church had forced young women to give up their babies for adoption against their will, then it was right for the Church to apologise and offer counselling and support.
But he said Church adoptions in WA were arranged privately through a lawyer and the consent of the woman had been a requirement.
"However, I have heard of unfeeling comments made by priests to pregnant girls that may well have caused them to give their babies up for adoption," Archbishop Hickey said.
"If that was the case, then I do apologise sincerely for their insensitivity."
Convener of the Apology Alliance Christine Cole said there was a mountain of evidence that showed the practice of forced adoptions.
Ms Cole said that last year the Catholic Sisters of Mercy apologised for their part in the illegal adoption of Albany woman Judith Henriksen's newborn son in 1973.
The co-ordinator of Adoption Jigsaw, Isabel Andrews, said it was time the Catholic Church as a whole admitted its part in forced adoptions and expressed its remorse.
"Archbishop Hickey's comments that women freely consented and that it was a few rogue priests making unfeeling comments will continue to traumatise women by not acknowledging the truth of what happened," Ms Andrews said.
"A genuine apology needs to recognise the coercion that occurred systemically."