ALISON O'CONNOR: Everything is basically as it was before the Pope arrived here

Pope Francis came and he went. In terms of the past sins visited on the Irish population by the Catholic Church, not a lot of difference was made.

You’d be forgiven for speculating that the Lonely Planet Guide made up the most of the Papal reading list ahead of his trip to the Emerald Isle.

At any rate, the Pope’s visit to Ireland will likely be remembered globally not for anything he did or said while on our shores, but rather for the extraordinary attack he came under while here from within the Catholic Church.

It was the equivalent of dropping a bomb when, over the weekend, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who had served as apostolic nuncio in the US for a number of years, released a 7,000-word letter.

It implicated a number of senior prelates in a cover-up surrounding the allegations of sexual abuse against former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Vigano claims Pope Francis knew that his predecessor, Pope Benedict, had imposed sanctions on McCarrick, but had subsequently lifted them.

Trying to read the Vatican and its internecine struggles is not an easy task to the casual observer.

But, from any perspective, that attack from a former papal nuncio, which landed last Sunday morning, and which called on the Pope to resign, could signal the beginning of the end for Pope Francis and major changes for the Catholic Church.

It was a lot to take on board as we watched him make his way to Knock, and later to the Phoenix Park, and wondered how far he would go in his efforts to address the abuse that had gone on in
Ireland.

But ultimately what happened could well mean that even if Pope Francis had any intentions to go further than kind words and requests for forgiveness, they could come to naught if he ends up caught in the vice grip of a power struggle.

The arch-conservatives within the Church have shown with the Vigano letter they will be taking no prisoners when it comes to keeping the Church, as they see it, pure.

Upon his elevation in 2013, this pope was viewed as a man with his feet on the ground who brought common sense to the table when discussing issues that mattered to Catholics worldwide. Liberals viewed him with delight when he made his comments on homosexual people, saying:

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge him?” The traditionalists shuddered.

His subsequent remarks on Catholics who are divorced and remarried deserving better treatment from the Church and even to receive Communion, writing that it was “not a prize for the perfect but a medicine, a nourishment for the weak”, was viewed by those fundamentalists as heretical.

By all accounts, Pope Francis dealt with all of this by simply ignoring the outrage. But the outraged were biding their time and also becoming more daring in their public criticisms of Pope Francis.

You might think that child abuse scandals could hold no benefit for anyone, but their re-emergence in the last year apparently gave his foes their opportunity. It began with what happened in Peru earlier this year.

Upon returning to Rome, the Pope had to apologise to abuse victims there for how he treated them.

Then there was the start of the McCarrick controversy in the US, to the bombshell that was the report of Pennsylvania Grand Jury.

Everything is basically as it was before the Pope arrived here

All of this meant that the stakes kept getting higher ahead of his trip to Ireland.

So, as he boarded that Alitalia flight from Rome last Saturday morning, the Pope was a man under pressure.

The eyes of the world watched to see what would be his attitude to Irish Catholics, who had suffered so hugely under the control of the Catholic Church, and theirs to him.

So if timing is everything, then the release of the Vigano letter looks to have been perfect.

After he boarded the Aer Lingus plane back to Rome on Sunday evening, he held his usual press conference with the travelling press pack.

Allowing for my own relative unfamiliarity with the Pope’s manner of speaking, and for the fact that his words were translated into English, the lengthy transcript of his remarks are quite extraordinary.

On first read, you think he is appearing to say something on a particular topic , but on further examination, it is quite remarkable for the lack of clarity, or in some instances even sense — whether it was to do with handling child sexual abuse or your child being gay.

When it came to the extraordinary Vigano allegations, Pope Francis chose not to respond to a direct question, saying people should make up their own minds about the claims.

In his speech on Saturday night at the Croke Park concert, the Pope was impressively precise in his message about families and prayer and love.

But as to what he actually intends to do about the high level cover up of clerical sex abuse, or exactly how acquainted he was with the utter tragedy that is the Tuam mother and baby home, if at all, and how he could have not known about our Magdalen laundries, we were left baffled.

Everything is basically as it was before the Pope arrived here

He did have that meeting with abuse victims on Saturday evening and hopefully whatever was said there provided them with some comfort. But materially everything basically is as it was before he arrived here.

He did express shame on a number of occasions and begged for God’s forgiveness, but there it ended.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone displayed magnificent political instincts in her efforts to get him to take some ownership of what happened in Tuam, and for the Church to contribute financially towards the site, but it would be a real shock if that cheque ever finds its way into the post.

The Pope now has to deal with the fallout from the allegations contained in Archbishop Vigano’s letter. Surely he will mount a defence of himself, or at least an explanation.

Those who are against him have wasted no time in publicly rowing in behind Vigano.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, the most prominent critic of Pope Francis’ more liberal approach, weighed in enthusiastically this week.

“The corruption and filth which have entered into the life of the Church must be purified at their roots,” he told LifeSite Catholic, a US pro-life website.

“The declarations made by a prelate of the authority of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano must be totally taken to heart by those responsible in the Church. Each declaration must be subject to investigation, according to the Church’s time-tried procedural law.”

Has the Pope had the time to give Irish Catholics more than a passing thought since he left on Sunday evening? In all likelihood no.

At any rate, what we saw and heard from him while he was here, though, indicates there was little likely to change.

He did express shame on a number of occasions and begged for God’s forgiveness, but there it ended


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