ROMAN Catholics in Ireland came out in their thousands to greet Pope Francis on his 36-hour visit to the country last weekend. But many have judged his words of sorrow for decades of child abuse within his Church to fall short of the full apology needed.
In a speech at Dublin Castle on Saturday, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said that there should “only be zero tolerance’” for those who concealed knowledge of abuse or protected the perpetrators, in Ireland and around the world.
“In place of Christian charity, forgiveness, and compassion, far too often there was judgement, severity, and cruelty, in particular towards women and children and those on the margins,” Mr Varadkar said. “Magdalene Laundries, mother-and-baby homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions, and clerical child abuse are stains on our State, our society and also the Catholic Church.
“Wounds are still open, and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors.”
He expressed hope that the visit would open a new chapter in the relationship between the Irish State and the Roman Catholic Church.
Responding in Italian, Pope Francis said: “I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education.”
He continued: “The failure of ecclesiastical authorities, bishops, religious superiors, priests and others, adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share these sentiments.”
The Pope had a 90-minute meeting with survivors of clerical abuse, and appeared shocked when told of the mother-and-baby homes and Magdalene laundries. One of those present said that he used the Spanish word “caca” (filth, excrement) to describe those who concealed child abuse.
During the papal mass on Sunday at the Phoenix Park, on the site where Pope John Paul celebrated the eucharist 40 years earlier, Pope Francis said: “We ask forgiveness for the times that, as a Church, we did not show the survivors of whatever kind of abuse the compassion and the seeking of justice and truth through concrete actions.
PAThe Stand4Truth rally walks to a former Magdalene Laundry in Dublin during the Pope’s visit to Ireland
“We ask for forgiveness for some of the Church hierarchy who did not take charge of these situations, and kept quiet.
“We ask for forgiveness for all those times in which many single mothers were told that to seek their children who had been separated from them — and the same being said to daughters and sons themselves — that this was a mortal sin. This is not a mortal sin. We ask for forgiveness.”
At a meeting with Ireland’s Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, on Saturday, the Pope received a dossier on the mother-and-baby homes. It referred especially to Tuam in Co. Galway, where Catherine Corless, a local researcher and historian, discovered that more than 700 babies had been buried in a field beside the home, which also contained a septic tank. The Pope promised to read it for himself.
Speaking at an in-flight press conference on his way home, the Pope said: “She [Ms Zappone] told me, and she was brief: ‘Holy Father, we found mass graves of children, buried children, we’re investigating . . . and the Church has something to do with this.’ But she said it very politely and truly with a lot of respect. . . That lady had a dignity that touched my heart, and now I have the memo there that I will study when I get home.”
Asked what Catholics could do to tackle abuse, the Pope responded with the story of a falsely accused priest in Granada: “If there are suspicions, proofs, or half-proofs, I do not see anything bad in making an investigation; but always that is done according to the fundamental juridical principle of nemo malus nisi probetur — no one is evil until it is proven.”
The executive director of Amnesty in Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, who was abused at the age of 13 by a priest, said that the Pope had “fluffed” an opportunity to tell the truth and promise to hold all, including those in the Vatican, who had perpetrated or hidden clerical abuse, to account.
Mr O’Gorman organised alternative rally, Stand4Truth, which marched through the city centre to a former Magdalene Laundry at Seán McDermot Street to coincide with the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park.
Perhaps the best measure of RC influence on contemporary Ireland was reflected in the numbers. An estimated 400,000 watched or attended events at which the Pope was present. But only 200,000 attended the papal mass in Phoenix Park; 40 years ago, and in drier weather, more than one million attended.
More than 50 per cent of respondents to a poll carried out by Ipsos MRBI for The Irish Times said that they did not believe that his words of apology were enough.
Read Paul Vallely on why the Irish stayed at home for Pope Francis