Apologies from the Pope simply not enough

Apologies from the Pope simply not enough

Sometimes sorry is simply not enough.

So much was expected from the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland.

This country’s relationship with the once totally dominant Roman Catholic Church has changed significantly since Pope John Paul II visited these shores in 1979.

While the Holy Father’s presence at Croke Park, Knock, and the Phoenix Park were the religious centrepieces of his visit, his meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and their addresses at Dublin Castle on Saturday were watched keenly by so many for so many reasons.

Varadkar had to address the wave of abuse scandals which have traumatised this country for three decades, were his credibility to hold.

During his address, Mr Varadkar said at times in the past we have failed.

We remember the way the failures of both Church and State and wider society created a bitter and broken heritage for so many, leaving a legacy of pain and suffering,” he said. “It is a history of sorrow and shame.

“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.

Apologies from the Pope simply not enough

“Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the world. In recent weeks, we have all listened to heart-breaking stories from Pennsylvania of brutal crimes perpetrated by people within the Catholic Church, and then obscured to protect the institution at the expense of innocent victims. It is a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland. There can only be zero tolerance for those who abuse innocent children or who facilitate that abuse.”

Many media commentators have spoken in admiration of Mr Varadkar’s comments, for their frankness without being disrepectful to the Pope.

The Sunday papers were full of plaudits forMr Varadkar, saying his words, spoken directly to the Holy Father, were “extraordinary”, the Pontiff stunned and unable to respond adequately.

It is certainly a speech that no previous taoiseach, including Enda Kenny, I think, would have given.

The stains on our history have been repeated from Belfast to Boston, from Dublin to Denver, from Australia to

Africa. The story of abuse is shockingly familiar.

While Mr Varadkar’s comments were commended by some, others, such as abuse victim and Amnesty International Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman said the speech and the visit went nowhere near far enough to address the concerns of those so let down by their Church.

And whatever about what the Taoiseach said, there was a palpable disappointment at the response from Pope Francis, especially in the absence of a commitment to enforce a zero-tolerance attitude to those who perpitrated or facilitated such abuse.

Later on Saturday, the Pope met a small group of abuse survivors including Independent councillor Damien O’Farrell.

As detailed by Maeve Sheahan in the Sunday Independent, during their meeting, the Pope listened as everyone in the group took turns to speak or asked questions.

The Pope, said Mr O’Farrell, seemed shocked at some of the first-hand testimonies he was hearing from survivors of institutional abuse, and at the stories of women incarcerated in Magdalene laundries.

Apologies from the Pope simply not enough

Mr O’Farrell then asked how the cardinals and bishops that covered up the abuse would be dealt with.

“Are they going to be cast out?” said Mr O’Farrell.

This question drew a most un-Pope-like response.

This cover-up was like dirt in a toilet, filth,” Francis said.

Yesterday, during the Mass at the Phoenix Park, the Pope again asked for forgiveness for the failure in dealing with the abuse scandals.

But it was all beginning to ring a bit hollow at this stage.

He was speaking as a former top Vatican official accused him of having known of allegations of sex abuse by a prominent US cardinal for five years before accepting his resignation last month.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano called on the Pontiff to resign, saying he had told Francis in 2013 that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had faced extensive accusations of sexually abusing lower-ranking seminarians and priests.

Without committing to implementing a worldwide zero-tolerance attitude to the abuse which has traumatised so many, here in Ireland and across the world, as significant as the Pope’s visit was, the sense of anti-climax is palpable.  

After all, we have been through, apologies from the Pope are welcome but quite simply not enough.

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