Leaders of the Catholic Church in Ireland are scrambling to deal with the outrage after a researcher revealed that up to 796 children are believed to be buried in a mass grave near a former home for unwed mothers and their children.

The researcher, Catherine Corless, says her discovery of child death records at the center run by the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam, County Galway, suggests that a former septic tank filled with bones is the final resting place for most, if not all, of the children.

Death records found that the children, mostly babies and toddlers, died of disease and illness in the orphanage, which operated from 1926 to 1961.

The harsh conditions at the home were not exceptional.  In post-independence Ireland, thousands of women were abused or exploited in church-run homes.

Last year, the Irish prime minister officially apologized to the women. Some church-run homes pretended that children were orphans and gave them up for adoption, in exchange for donations, regardless of their mothers' wishes.

The 2013 film Philomena was inspired by the true story of such a forced adoption.