Ireland: Pope Francis visits a land of waning faith
When the pope came to Ireland last weekend, said Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times, he found “a Catholic church not just falling to ruin, but in some respects beyond repair.” At the time of the last papal visit, in 1979, when a million Irish turned out to see John Paul II celebrate Mass in Dublin, everyone here still took communion; abortion, contraception, and divorce were illegal; and the church ran our hospitals and schools. But since then, we have learned of the church’s “systematic covering up and effective facilitation” of child sexual abuse by clergy, and the institutional abuse of tens of thousands of unmarried pregnant women incarcerated in Magdalene laundries and mother-and-baby homes. It was revealed in 2014 that nearly 800 babies and children died at one such home, in Tuam, between 1925 and 1961, and many of their tiny skeletons have since been excavated from unmarked graves. Ireland now understands that the church “maintained its ‘purity’ through systematic terror.” Church attendance is way down, and in the past three years we have repealed an abortion ban and legalized gay marriage. Fewer than 130,000 worshippers turned out for Pope Francis’ Sunday Mass in Dublin, while protesters, many of them victims of clerical abuse, called for guilty priests to be jailed.
The pope apologized and begged forgiveness for the “crimes” of the church, but his message fell flat, said The Irish Examiner in an editorial. He seemed shocked to hear tales from former victims of abuse in the laundries, as if he had never learned the magnitude of the horror. “Was he not briefed, even in the most minimal, bullet-point way?” A more moving sermon came from our gay prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said The Irish Times. In a gracious but firm address, he told the pope that the country was wounded because “in place of Christian charity, forgiveness, and compassion, far too often there had been judgment, severity, and cruelty.” The Irish need to see proof that the church will both punish the perpetrators and dismantle the culture of secrecy that enabled them. That will require “new investigations, redress, and handing over documents.”
Yet now Pope Francis himself is implicated, said Paddy Agnew in the Irish Independent. He woke up during his visit to discover that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, an arch-conservative and former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., had published “a scathing letter” accusing Francis of a cover-up. Viganò claimed that Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had placed sanctions on American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for allegedly abusing young seminarians and priests. He accused Francis of lifting those sanctions, and in an “unprecedented” act for a senior Vatican official, he called on the pope to resign. Viganò, 79, clearly has a vendetta—he believes that homosexuals are to blame for the church’s abuse scandals, and thinks Francis is too tolerant of gays—but what matters are the facts. If the pope personally covered up for an abuser, can the church ever regain its moral authority? ■