Dublin: Pope Francis arrives today in Ireland, ground zero of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis, with the institution under fire across the globe for its systemic failures to protect children from priestly rapists or punish bishops who hid the crimes.
Francis is expected to meet with victims during his 36-hour visit to Dublin and will have “many opportunities” to speak out about abuse, the Vatican says.
But neither Francis’ words nor a new meeting with victims is likely to calm the outrage among rank-and-file Catholics in Ireland and abroad following new revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up in the US, an ongoing crisis in Chile and prosecutions of top clerics in Australia and France.
Ireland has had one of the worst records of abuse in the world, crimes that were revealed to its 4.8 million deeply Catholic people over the past decade by a series of government-mandated inquiries. They revealed thousands of children raped and molested by priests and physically abused in church-run schools, and bishops who covered up the crimes.
After the Irish church atoned for its past and enacted tough new norms to fight abuse, it had been looking to the first visit by a pope in 40 years to show a different, more caring church that understands the problems of ordinary Catholic families today.
More than 37,000 people – most of them young Catholics – signed up to attend this week’s Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Dublin, more than twice as many as the previous edition of the family rally in Philadelphia three years ago.
In a country where Catholic bishops held such sway that they advised the drafters of the republic’s constitution in the 1930s, voters in recent years have turned their backs on core Catholic teachings. They have overturned a constitutional ban on abortion and legalised divorce, homosexuality, contraception and same-sex marriage.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who will welcome Francis at Dublin Castle on Saturday, is openly gay.
Irish abuse victims and their supporters are expected to hold a solidarity rally on Sunday in Dublin, at the same time Francis is celebrating his final Mass to close out the family conference.
Francis will be nearby, visiting the Marian shrine at Knock, but has no plans to visit the grave site.
On the eve of Francis’ arrival in Dublin, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley – the pope’s top abuse counselor – said protecting children and vulnerable adults is now the single most crucial issue facing the church.
O’Malley had been expected to headline the panel in person, but he backed out at the last minute, citing a new inquiry he launched into his diocesan seminary amid sexual misconduct allegations – one of three big US seminaries that have launched such investigations in recent weeks.
Irish abuse survivor and advocate Marie Collins, who resigned in frustration from O’Malley’s board last year, told the safeguarding panel that if Francis claims to be on the side of victims, the Catholic Church should no longer lobby to block the ability of victims to sue and prosecute abusers after the statute of limitations expires.
“The actions of the church do not match the words, and they are in fact totally the opposite,” Collins said. She called for “robust structures” and strong sanctions to hold accountable bishops and even Vatican officials who fail to protect children.