Things are far from perfect in Ireland when it comes to issues of child protection, but we have made a lot of strides in the right direction, writes Daniel McConnell.
TODAY, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will meet with his Holiness, Pope Francis, in Dublin.
The meeting, at Dublin Castle, is scheduled to last 10 minutes.
I am told that only the Pope, the Taoiseach, and their translators will be present; no advisors, no spinners, no prying ears.
Mr Varadkar has spoken to reporters about what he intends raising with the Pope.
The Taoiseach said he will press Pope Francis for full disclosure on clerical child abuse.
Mr Varadkar was asked to what extent political leaders can put pressure on the Vatican to completely open up about child abuse.
He said: “I think we can, and I think we have to. Things are far from perfect in Ireland when it comes to issues around child protection, but we have made a lot of strides in the right direction in the last couple of years.
“We don’t, for example, have any statutory limitations, when it comes to prosecuting people who are perpetrators of child sex abuse, and we’ve brought in mandatory reporting over the last year, and that’s not the case in other countries.
“But I believe, whether it’s the law of the land or not, it’s good practice and should be applied across the board by the Church all over the world, and they have the power to do that, if they wish to do so.”
While Mr Varadkar said he was in favour of a greater separation of Church and State, he supported religious freedom.
On the issue of the Church’s influence in our schools and hospitals, he said: “I think it should change. I think it will change, but I’m also not an extreme secularist either. I think that there is a role to play, a valuable role to play, for religious bodies of all sorts, when it comes to charitable provision, when it comes to welfare.”
But in the key line in his comments, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t want to skirt over lots of topics, just to say that I raised them. The first is to welcome him to Ireland on behalf of the Irish people, on behalf of the faithful, in particular.
“Secondly, is to talk about my wish that we can open a new chapter in relations between Ireland, the Irish State, and the Catholic Church that is more equal, that is more respectful, and one that is more modern.”
For those of us who feel the Church has had a profoundly damaging impact on Irish life and society in the past 100 years, such comments are highly significant.
I was most taken with his statement that he would not reference a whole host of issues simply for it to be said that he had raised them.
One can only hope that Mr Varadkar uses, effectively, his 10 minutes with the Pope, but also his highly anticipated address, to give a voice to those who were for so long abused and ignored by his Church.
I speak of the women of this country, isolated and ostracised from their families and their communities, because of the shame driven by the Church’s hypocritical moral piety.
I speak of the children abandone d in awful religious institutions such as Goldenbridge, beaten and abused by out-of-control nuns and priests who preyed on their vulnerability.
I speak of the babies buried in unmarked graves in Tuam, in Bessborough, and elsewhere, who were denied the dignity they deserved, because they fell foul of the image of what was acceptable in good old Catholic Ireland.
Mr Varadkar must demand a zero tolerance culture from the Church and those who fall foul of that should be made available to the gardaí.
He must demand an end to the Church’s feet-dragging as regards the divestment of religious schools.
He must demand a proper and genuine offer from the Church as redress to those who have been so badly let down by the very Church to which they pledged allegiance.
He must also seek an end to the demonisation of gay people, as is current policy of the Church, given the hurt and pain it has caused here in Ireland and throughout the world.
As the meeting is only likely to be 10 minutes, and most of that will be taken up by platitudes and welcomes, the chance of substantial progress is slim.
Therefore, Mr Varadkar has one shot to hit the Pope between the eyes with the true scale of the damage done to the Irish people by the failings of the Church.
And he must, if he is to avoid disappointing all of those who are demanding justice.
Controlling the message and expectations of the meeting will be critical for the Taoiseach.
Should a perception emerge that he either pulled his punches or went soft on the Pope, then his standing will be in question.
Mr Varadkar should invoke the spirit of Enda Kenny’s finest ever speech as taoiseach, when he slammed the Church in the Dáil in the wake of the Cloyne report.
The Mayo man said: “Clericalism has rendered some of Ireland’s brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors cited in the Ryan and Murphy Reports.
“This Roman clericalism must be devastating for good priests .... some of them old ... others struggling to keep their humanity ... even their sanity as they work so hard ... to be the keepers of the Church’s light and goodness within their parishes ... communities ... the human heart.
“But, thankfully for them, and for us, this is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland, 2011.
“A republic of laws ... of rights and responsibilities ... of proper civic order ... where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version ... of a particular kind of ‘morality’ ... will no longer be tolerated or ignored. As a practising Catholic, I don’t say any of this easily.
“Growing up, many of us in here learned we were part of a pilgrim Church. Today, that Church needs to be a penitent Church. A Church, truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied.”
These are exactly the sentiments Mr Varadkar must impart to the Pope this weekend.
Anything less than this and a demand for specific actions from Rome to make amends will mark a significant failure on his part.
It may be the most important 10 minutes of Mr Varadkar’s time as Taoiseach to date. He must make each one of those 10 minutes count.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved