ALISON O'CONNOR: Just imagine if the Pope stood in Phoenix Park and told the truth

Who is in charge of the Catholic Church? asks Alison O’Connor

Is it the man due to land in Ireland tomorrow morning? The Catholic Church is in the teeth of a global paedophilia crisis. In advance of the visit of Pope Francis Ireland has become the global focus for that. You have to wonder where it is that the power truly lies.

We are left with a poor choice when it comes to concluding what exactly has been going on at the highest level of the Catholic Church.

You don’t have to be a Vaticanologist to speculate that while this Pope may in theory be the head of the Church, but is he in reality having rings run around him? The alternative is to speculate that Pope Francis is not a man of his word when it comes to clerical child abuse and does not recognise right from wrong.

If a man is chosen to be the moral head of the world’s 1.2bn Catholics and shows himself to be outspoken and able to lead the way in issues such as climate change and migrants, or indeed sorting out the previously scandalous state of the Vatican’s finances, how can he not root out a moral rot that has been at the heart of the Church for so long. Indeed even if theoretically an individual was unconcerned about the issue of child sexual abuse surely the simple fact of the atrocious publicity and prolonged damage it has caused for the Church would cause action to be taken.

After all that has occurred how could Pope Francis have travelled to Chile recently and behaved so badly towards victims in relation to a bishop there accused, credibly, of abuse. Pope Francis did subsequently take the accusations seriously and sacked that bishop and four others, but this was the sort of behaviour that might have been somewhat understandable 30 years, not now.

If we take the example of what occurred in Ireland, we see that the Church took out insurance to cover it against priests sexually abusing children as far back 1987. So we can charitably observe they have had over three decades (in actuality a lot longer because they have known about it for far longer) to get the Roman Catholic house in order.

Who then is in a better position to know all of this than Pope Francis? He either seeks not to inform himself or is misinformed by those around him. Is either scenario acceptable when the safety of children from rape and other sexual crimes is in question?

Last week the report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury dropped. It gives graphic details of child sex abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses, involving 300 priests abusing more than 1,000 children. The report concludes that the abuse of children was “brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all”.

There is rich and tragic irony in reading the horrors of all that suffering and all those devout Catholic families that were torn apart as a result of these children being raped and molested by priests, at the same time as the Pope was preparing himself to make a trip to Ireland for what is essentially a holy gathering to celebrate families — the World Meeting of Families

As the fallout from that US report continued internationally the Pope was left with little choice but to issue a statement earlier this week which he did by way of a letter addressed to the “People of God”. It ran to over 2,000 words. Sadly there was nothing new in it, with language that we have seen before, the usual homespun fireside Gospel shtick. The words seemed meaningless when they failed to offer any outline or announcement of what would actually be done at Vatican level to make changes. I heard it speculated by those who would purport to know that it may not have even been written by the Pope because it was not the type of language he would ordinarily use. Even that detail, if true, is incredible.

We are left to conclude that the Pope planned a visit to Ireland — a country acknowledged as having been a bastion of clerical abuse and cover up — and did not have as a top priority a meeting with those who had been sexually abused as children by Irish Catholic priests. As we know they were abused behind closed doors and now they will meet the Pope behind closed doors and in a manner which looks to be reluctant on his part.

Just imagine if the Pope stood in Phoenix Park and told the truth 

Those that question the Pope’s moral authority have been painted by a significant number of the remaining faithful as killjoys attempting to spoil the magnificence of our first Papal visit since John Paul in 1979. How about these same people contemplate setting their standards higher? How are they happy to welcome a man who has not put the protection of children from adult clerical sexual predators and presided over the Church’s strenuous global effort to cover it up? Surely if you have any sort of inkling of moral right or wrong this issue would be a priority. Would you, for instance, allow your moral compass to be set by non clerical people who covered up crimes against children, and if not, why does the additional of a clerical collar make it acceptable?

IMAGINE if such behaviour was discovered among politicians or in a place of employment, people simply would not stand for it. Yet the irony is there remains a very significant number of Catholics globally who continue to insist that these men, who have acted in this abhorrent manner, should continue to be the custodian of their morals, therefore allowing them to continue without change.

It would be a truly wonderful thing for the Pope to use this visit to Ireland to address the issue of sex abuse by Catholic priests head on — without the euphemisms of the past.

Imagine if he stood in Croke Park, or the Phoenix Park and came straight out with the kind of plain speaking that so many people, primarily those who have been abused, have waited so long to hear

Just imagine if the Pope told the truth. After that he could lay out exactly what he intends to do about it. There would be no point in announcements about cardinal so and so taking over, or a papal-appointed commission or a high ranking investigation. Only an outsider, or indeed a group of outsiders, would do at this stage. They would have to be guaranteed co-operation and access. It would be a defining moment and not just for his papacy. It would prove that he is indeed the Pope, not just in name. Surely that is what a Gospel of Love is truly about.

They were abused behind closed doors and now they will meet the Pope behind closed doors


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