Catholic church in Ireland at a crossroads

Catholic church Ireland crossroads
14/08/2018. SITE VISIT – POPE FRANCIS. Pictured the site where Pope Francis is to give the closing Mass in the Phoenix Park. Today the Media were invited to visit and be briefed on the arrangements in the Phoenix Park for World Meeting of Families 2018. (WMOF2018) with Pope Francis on Sunday 26 August 2018 for the closing Mass. Photo: Sam Boal/

Pope’s visit this weekend marks a watershed for Church in Ireland

Irish church hierarchy admit Pope must offer more than apologies

Pope Francis arrives in Ireland this weekend amid expectations, and hopes, that he can repair the Catholic church’s damaged authority in the country. Senior clergy and survivors of physical and sexual abuse have all said that to accomplish this he must offer more than just another apology.

Many in Ireland have been upset that the revelations of abuse in Ireland have not produced apologies on the scale prompted by US revelations. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics are expected at the World Meeting of Families’ scheduled papal events in Dublin and Knock, Co. Mayo.

The highlight, for many, will be the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park, the site of the last Papal visit – by John Paul II in September 1979 – but this time to a very, very different Ireland.

Catholic church Ireland crossroads
Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin. Photo: Brian O’ Leary /Photocall Ireland

The man responsible for bringing the Pope to Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, speaking ahead of the visit repeated his earlier calls for Francis to speak frankly about the Church’s failings and cover up of abuse. But he admitted that Pope Francis would not be able to provide all the answers to questions people will ask about scandals in the Catholic Church when he visits Ireland next week.

Less than 24 hours after the Archbishop’s heartfelt plea the Vatican – still reeling from the damning Grand Jury indictment of US clerical cover-ups of abuse in Pennsylvania – issued a world-wide apology from Pope Francis and plea for forgiveness.

Last week’s Grand Jury report led to charges against two priests, one of whom has pleaded guilty, but most of those responsible are dead and the vast majority of crimes happened too long ago to prosecute because of the statute of limitations.

The two-year investigation into all but two Pennsylvania dioceses found dozens of witnesses and half a million pages of church records containing “credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests.”

More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable, but the “real number” was “in the thousands,” the grand jury estimated.

It urged scrapping the statute of limitations for child sex abuse and allowing victims more time to file civil lawsuits and urged tightening of laws to compel people to report abuse they find out about.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the report said. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

Catholic church Ireland crossroads
Josh Shapiro

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Church elders were not punished but promoted and predator priests allowed to remain in ministries for 10, 20, even 40 years after leaders learned of their crimes as the list of victims got longer and longer.

Between 5,700 and 10,000 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, but only a few hundred have been tried, convicted, and sentenced for their crimes. In his letter addressed to all Catholics around the world Pope Francis begged forgiveness and admitted the Catholic Church let down children and “showed no care” to victims of sexual abuse by priests.

He called for greater accountability in the face of last week’s revelations of criminal misconduct by the Church in the US where the abuse of more than 1,000 youngsters by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania was systemically covered up by church officials for years.

The Pope condemned the “crime” of all those responsible in any abuse within the church, and any subsequent cover-ups, and insisted that Catholics must be involved in greater efforts to root it out.

Catholic church Ireland crossroads
18/08/2018 Poster for Papal visit. Pictured outside the RDS in Ballsbridge, Dublin, today are large posters advertising the upcoming visit of the Pope to the Pastoral Congress at the World Meeting of Families 2018. Photograph: Sam Boal /

“We have realised that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death,” he wrote. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

In his Sunday homily in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral Dr Martin said Francis “has to speak frankly about our past but also about our future” because “scandals of abuse in the Church have produced a deep-seated resentment among believers”.

Approaching the Pope’s visit, Archbishop Martin said today that Francis comes at a “complex horizon of our Irish Church”.

“It is not just anger over the horror of abuse, but an anger at the role of Church leadership in compounding the suffering of so many in institutions for children, for unmarried mothers and for vulnerable women,” he said.

Catholic church Ireland crossroads

“These were people who found themselves placed in the care the Church to be loved and respected but who so often encountered extraordinary harshness. Archbishop Martin said that the number of victims is immense and that we “still only know the identity of some”.

He said the anger directed at the Catholic Church wasn’t just about the abuses, but also the authoritarian, autocratic and self-protecting nature of the Church.

“Rather than bringing the message of the love of God, the church in Ireland imposed a world of rules to such an extent that it lacked respect for the personal life of many and especially of women,” he said.

The Archbishop said that, during Pope Francis’ short two-day visit to Ireland, he won’t be able to answer all the questions but added he hopes that the pontiff “will speak kindly but also speak frankly”.

“The recent history of the Church in Ireland had its moments of real darkness,” he said. “My hope is that Pope Francis will challenge the Church in Ireland to be different.”

He said the “structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever”.

Catholic church Ireland crossroads

The archbishop was asked by reporters afterwards if he was disappointed that the Pope had not done enough to end clerical sex abuse and the cover-ups. Dr Martin said he “needs a stronger team of people around him to carry out this business”.

He said the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by the Pope in 2014, was “too small and maybe not getting its teeth into where it should be”.

He said the Vatican is a complex machine and the Pope has to be strong in saying what he wants and seeing it is implemented. Dr Martin said the Pope had tried to find a way to sanction bishops but “it doesn’t seem to have worked and now we have to find another way”.

This weekend’s event had generated unwelcome headlines following the cancellation of an appearance at the event by keynote speaker cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington after he was criticised in last week’s grand jury report for his handling of abuse allegations in Pennsylvania.

His withdrawal came three days after Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley announced he was pulling out due to problems at his own seminary. The revelations of thousands and thousands of abuse cases, and subsequent cover-ups, started in the Boston diocese in 2002.

Catholic church Ireland crossroads

Cardinal O’Malley is the chair of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Children and he had been due to chair a panel on Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults but he cancelled his appearance to deal with allegations of abuse at at St John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston, where he serves. He is also dealing with claims that his office did not take seriously enough warnings about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick while he was a priest in New York.

The organiser of the World Meeting of Families event in Dublin is Dublin-born Cardinal Kevin Farrell who earlier this year banned former President of Ireland Mary McAleese from an event at the Vatican because of her outspoken criticism of the church’s treatment of women.

Cardinal bans McAleese from Vatican event

Cardinal Farrell was vicar general to archbishop of Washington Theodore E McCarrick who has been accused of abusing his authority to sexually prey upon priests and seminarians and, while a priest in New York, upon children. The head of the Catholic church in Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin joined the calls for the Pope to do more than just say sorry.

Dr Martin, the archbishop of Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, which makes him Primate of All Ireland, told BBC Northern Ireland: “He will try to express the grave sorrow of the church but I think people want more than that. He will want to express the church’s commitment that if a member of your family is involved in an activity with the church, they will be as safe there as in their own home.

He said he’d “like to think” that the Pope will meet survivors of abuse and address this issue in a meaningful way. He said: “If he expresses an apology, it needs to be more than sorry. We need to demonstrate we are committed to the wellbeing of children and young people and vulnerable adults who comes within our churches.”

Last week the Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said the Pope’s visit is a crossroads for the church in Ireland at which it must “acknowledge our past, good and bad”. Speaking during his Feast of the Assumption of Mary homily at Mass Rock in Killeddy, Co Limerick, following Mass earlier at Ashford.

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