Every hour of his successful and well-received visit to Ireland, Pope Francis was forced to acknowledge more and more of the wrongs that had been done to people abused by clergy here over many years, be it physical, sexual or institutional violence, and beg forgiveness. Incredulously, it seemed as if he was not aware of the full extent of what had gone on, carried out often by religious orders but which the State shared some responsibility for too, as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rightly acknowledged.
In a commendable address of welcome, Mr Varadkar was very balanced in the way he spoke about Church-State relations in today’s world and gave Pope Francis plenty of food for thought about what the people of Ireland expected of his visit here for the World Meeting of Families. During the course of a hectic two-day visit, the 81-year-old Pope showed great empathy with homeless people at the Capuchin Day Care Centre in Dublin run by West Cork’s Brother Kevin Crowley – a well-deserved acknowledgement of his work.
At a private meeting with victims of various abuses by Church personnel, the Pope was so taken back that he described those who covered up for abusers as ‘caca’ – filth from a toilet. Finally, at the mass in the Phoenix Park, which was only attended by a fraction – a quarter according to some reports – of the number who attended Pope John Paul II’s mass there in 1979, the current pontiff sought forgiveness for the cover-ups by the Catholic Church hierarchy of the actions of abusers.
The Pope’s apology by way of seeking forgiveness, while welcome, must lead to restitution and tangible action, especially against those at various levels of the Church hierarchy who covered up abuse – from diocesan level to the upper echelons of the Vatican – by dismissing them or, where people have already retired or died, naming and shaming them for their unchristian deeds. Actions always speak louder than words.