Amid disputed reports concerning the burials of nearly 800 children at a Catholic unwed mother home in Ireland over a 36-year period in the mid-20th century, the local archbishop has said he is "horrified" and welcomes a government investigation.

"I was greatly shocked, as we all were, to learn of the extent of the numbers of children buried in the grave-yard in Tuam," Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam said June 4.

"I am horrified and saddened to hear of the large number of deceased children involved and this points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers."

"Regardless of the time lapse involved this is a matter of great public concern which ought to be acted upon urgently."

A local historian, Catherine Corless, researched the burial sites of 796 babies and young children who died at the St. Mary's home for unwed mothers during its years of operation from 1925 to 1961 – a death rate of about 23 children per year. The home was operated by the Bons Secours Sisters.

Government inspection reports at the time the home was in operation found problems and health issues. One 1944 report said some of the children at the home were "fragile, pot-bellied and emaciated," Agence France Presse reports.

Children ranging in age from newborns to eight-year-olds died from malnutrition and infectious diseases including measles and tuberculosis, the records show.

Corless said that a former septic tank near the home served as a mass grave. Local children reportedly found skeletal remains at this grave in the 1970s but the site was not examined again.

However, Sgt. Brian Whelan with the press office of Ireland's national police said that the remains were found in a graveyard at the ground of the home, not in a septic tank, CNN reports. Whelan said there was no evidence of improper actions and police are not investigating.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the government is considering how to respond to the reports.

Archbishop Neary welcomed the announcement. He said the archdiocese will continue to work with the Bon Secours Sisters and the local community to commemorate the dead and their families with a memorial prayer service and a plaque.

"It will be a priority for me, in cooperation with the families of the deceased, to seek to obtain a dignified re-interment of the remains of the children in consecrated ground in Tuam," the archbishop said.

Archbishop Neary said the archdiocese "did not have any involvement in the running of the home" and has no material relating to it in its archives. He said that it is his understanding that the Bon Secours Sisters handed the material to the Galway County Council and to health authorities in 1961.

"While the Archdiocese of Tuam will cooperate fully nonetheless there exists a clear moral imperative on the Bon Secours Sisters in this case to act upon their responsibilities in the interests of the common good," he said.

"May the Lord's infinite mercy console all who have suffered and bring healing to their loved ones."

CNA contacted the Sisters of Bon Secours International for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.