by Frank Schnittger
Fri Aug 17th, 2018 at 03:50:40 PM EST
Pope Francis is visiting Ireland on 25th. August for the World Meeting of families in what is the first Papal visit to Ireland since Pope John Paul II made a triumphal visit drawing massive crowds in 1979. The event will be a fitting barometer of how much Ireland has changed in the meantime.
Much smaller crowds are expected this time around, and his visit has become mired in controversy. First the World Meeting of Families removed all mention of "non traditional families" from all promotional material, and then there were doubts expressed whether he would have time to meet with survivors of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Even now it seems most unlikely he will meet with some of the more outspoken critics of the Catholic church such as Clerical abuse survivor Colm O'Gorman, or former President Mary McAleese - who was recent banned from speaking at a conference in the Vatican - which prompted the conference organizers to move the conference to just outside the Vatican.
The timing is also unfortunate, coming so soon after the successful referendum campaigns to legalize same sex marriage and to permit abortion in Ireland.
To cap it all, a grand Jury in Pennsylvania has just issued a report which accused hundreds of priests of abusing thousands of children in just 6 dioceses within Pennsylvania and Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Chair of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children,has just cancelled his attendance with the Pope in order to deal with a new crisis of seminarian abuse at one of his seminaries.
The Irish Times has just published a letter of mine highlighting the challenge facing the Pope:
Sir, - The findings of the inquiry in Pennsylvania that hundreds of priests abused thousands of children in six diocese ministering to just over half of Pennsylvania's Catholics rather puts a dent in the "a few bad apples" excuse commonly wheeled out when such abuses come to light (World News, August 15th).
The male celibate nature of the Catholic priesthood combined with an authoritarian culture that facilitated the grooming of children and the suppression of reports of abuse had to be contributory factors.
However, is their something much more fundamentally wrong with the theology of a church which focuses on the maleness of Christ and his disciples, the subjugation of women, and the accumulation of institutional and societal power over others?
The recent resounding victory of the Yes side in the abortion referendum here may have been as much about the rejection of such a culture and church as it was a vote in favour of abortion.
If Pope Francis does not address these issues it will be the final nail in the coffin of a church that has lost all social, political, and dare I say it, spiritual authority.
Pope Francis aspires to be a transformational leader, but he needs to match fine words with deeds. His first action should be to release the Vatican files of abusers to enable their prosecution here. The abused, and indeed the Irish people deserve no less. - Yours, etc,
Far from being a radical critique, I think my letter just expresses the mainstream consensus that the time for apologies is over and it is past time for action. Although a few priests have gone to jail for abuse of children, no priest or bishop has been imprisoned for failing to report crimes of rape or actively covering up the actions of pedophiles.
The Vatican even attempted to conclude a Concordat with Ireland which would indemnify it against any costs arising from legal actions by survivors and release it from any obligation to make its files on abusers available to Irish prosecutors. To date legal actions for compensation by abuse survivors have cost the Irish taxpayer some 1.3 Billion with Church institutions not even honouring their pledges to contribute 100 Million.
Media coverage of the event has been almost universally critical with one priest actually calling for the Pope's visit to be cancelled, as he would be appearing alongside three cardinals, "who had very serious questions to answer about what they knew about clerical sex abuse" in their areas of responsibility.
He made his call to the pope, he said, in the context of a group representing clerical child sex survivors worldwide who recently wrote an open letter to the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin seeking the removal of three cardinals from the World Meeting of Families.
The Ending Clergy Abuse group claimed that the three cardinals - Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect at the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life which has overall responsibility for the World Meeting of Families, Cardinal Óscar Maradiaga of Honduras and a member of Pope Francis's Council of Cardinals, and Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl - had covered up for clergy who abused minors.
The cardinals have denied these claims.
Fr McCafferty said he was also asking the pope to cancel his visit in the context of how former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick recently was removed from ministry following accusations that he had sexually abused minors as well as seminarians and young priests.
Especially when compared with John Paul II's triumphal visit in 1979, Pope Francis' visit threatens to become a disaster unless he undertakes some very radical initiatives to draw a line under the past and ensure the maximum protections for children and seminarians in the Church in the future. At a very minimum he must, as I suggested in my letter, release the files on abusers held by the Vatican to enable their more effective prosecution.
It would probably be too much to hope that he will also change Vatican teaching on birth control, same sex marriage, the medical management of unsafe pregnancies, the ordination of women, and patriarchy in the Church more generally. It may very well be too late to save the Catholic Church in Ireland from decline into minority cult status, and conservatives can point to a growth in Church members in Africa and Asia.
The irony is that Ireland used to be a prime source for Catholic missionaries to Africa and Asia and now Irish seminaries are empty and many parishes are without a priest. Increasingly, it will be a case of African or Asian priests ministering to the rapidly declining and aging congregations that remain.
There is little actual hostility being expressed to the Pope personally, although his record on child protection worldwide has been described as a dismal failure by the former chief executive of the Irish Catholic Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children. All of which begs the question "why is he coming at all?" unless it is his intention to announce a radical departure in Church polices and practice.