Cardinal Vincent Nichols has apologised for “hurt” caused to young mothers who say they were pressured into giving up their children in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
His comments were made in an ITV documentary, Britain’s Adoption Scandal: Breaking The Silence, to be aired next Wednesday.
The programme interviews about 60 women who had their babies adopted by agencies linked to the Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Salvation Army.
The cardinal, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “The Catholic Church understands and acknowledges the grief and pain caused by the giving up of a child through adoption.
“The practices of all adoption agencies reflected the social values at that time and were sometimes lacking in care and sensitivity. We apologise for the hurt caused by agencies acting in the name of the Catholic Church.”
Lawyers investigating the issue have urged the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to open a public inquiry.
The practice ended in 1976, when a change in the law gave local authorities responsibility for handling adoptions in Britain.
Carolynn Gallwey, from Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, said: “These women were told not to speak about what had happened to them. But now they’re entitled to have their experiences recognised and the only way to do that is through a public inquiry.”