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Pope arriving in an Ireland very different to 1979

Marie Collins, a survivor of clerical abuse, former member of the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors, and patron of “The Marie Collins Foundation,” speaking during a session called “Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults” during the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families event in the RDS, Dublin. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie.


By Ray O’Hanlon

Ireland will roll out the welcome mat for Pope Francis this weekend.

But for many Irish, Catholics and otherwise, the welcome they give the pontiff will be a qualified one.

Ireland is a very different country than it was in 1979 when Pope John Paul II made what was a triumphal visit.

Clerical sexual abuse is dominating much of the national conversation in advance of the pope’s two day visit.

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Francis is expected to meet with abuse victims during his stay, which is centered on the church’s Ninth World Meeting of Families.

That gathering was heralded last Tuesday by the ringing of bells in cathedrals across the island. Events have been taking place all week in advance of the pope’s arrival on Saturday.

The pope will not be visiting the North.

In an echo of the John Paul visit, Francis will culminate his stay by celebrating Mass in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Sunday.

The pope, who enjoys considerable personal popularity in Ireland despite the various church-linked scandals brought to light in the last several decades, will also be visiting Knock Shrine in County Mayo.

The pope will set foot on Irish soil with his own words addressing the abuse crisis still echoing around the globe, this after his issuing of a letter condemning the “crime” of priestly sexual abuse and its cover-up.

The letter followed the latest shocking revelations of abuse arising from a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania.

The pope stated in part: “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.

“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” the pope stated in his three page letter which was issued in seven languages.

And he continued: “Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.

“The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

“Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.

“It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.”

For many Irish clerical abuse survivors and their representatives, words alone, however forceful, will not be sufficient.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would like to see the Catholic Church adopt a policy of mandatory reporting of child sex abuse in all countries.

Varadkar welcomed the pope's letter, but said action must follow words.

Bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian, said the pope must take the next step and make sure that church law ensures accountability for church leaders on the issue of clerical sex abuse, RTÉ reported.

On Saturday, after various official engagements, Francis will preside at the Festival for Families event in Croke Park.

The itinerary also includes a motorcade procession through the Irish capital in the popemobile.

The pope’s visit to Knock is set for Sunday morning and will include a visit to the village and the shrine at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock. The Phoenix Park Mass will take place Sunday afternoon and the 81-year-old pontiff will fly back to Rome Sunday evening.