Pope Francis celebrating the Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.
By Bill Heaney
Like thousands of Scottish Catholics, most of us now what they call “cultural Catholics”, I watched the excellent Sky News coverage of the 32-hour visit by Pope Francis to Ireland.
It was a visit that touched the hearts of many and brought back happy memories of similar visits to the UK and Ireland, which we have witnessed over the past 40 years.
These were visits to Glasgow and Edinburgh and Dublin and Knock by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
This was different, however. Francis was a pope on a pilgrimage of confession for the sins of the clergy who have sexually abused children and women; young women and men in industrial schools and Magdalene Laundries and mothers whose out of wedlock children were taken from them and sold for adoption to childless couples in the United States.
If the Holy Father looked troubled during his visit, then he had much to be troubled about. It was enough to make a pope swear in public – and Francis did just that.
The bishops and priests, nuns and brothers who did these things then covered them up and remained silent – not just in Ireland but here in Scotland and in the US and Australia – were “caca”, the Pope said, using Argentine street word for excrement or filth.
Their silence and refusal to take the matter beyond making a grudging apology was a scandal which required more than just that, much more.
There would have to be change, radical change.
However, for some of the victims of abuse Pope Francis did not go far enough.
They want him to call out the perpetrators and excommunicate them from the Church.
And they want reparation for the fact that their whole lives have been ruined by the abuse.
There are people out there today who were sold for adoption more than half a century ago who still do not know who they are, whose births were never registered properly.
The coverage of Pope Francis’s visit was spectacular and for many truly uplifting.
Phoenix Park was where hopes rose that the Church would reform and rise from the ashes of this cruelty and misery.
There appeared to be a multitude present at the Mass on Sunday, but soberer figures issued on Monday morning estimated just 130,000 had turned up there, far less than expected
However, when you take the 80,000-plus figure for the concert at Croke Park in Dublin and the short morning visit to Knock, the shrine founded and built by the one-time Dumbarton priest, Monsignor James Horan, half a million people attended the events.
And then there was the Sky News audience which ran into millions universally and many thousands here in Scotland.
What we didn’t see on television was sight, stole or surplice of the Scottish contingent who attended the Papal Mass – Archbishop Leo Cushley and Bishops Joseph Toal and John Keenan.
Their depleted flocks will now be expecting some strong comment on the situation here where Scotland too has suffered abuse in schools, children’s homes and where there was at least one mother and baby home.
Scots Catholics will not wish to see their troubles brushed under the altar and will expect fact and not fudge when their bishops next come to address these matters.
What we didn’t see on television was the peaceful vigil to coincide with the Papal Mass which took place took place in Tuam, Co Galway, on Sunday.
The bodies of hundreds of babies were buried at the former institution there.
Courageous women, Minister Katherine Zappone, meets the Pope and former President Mary McAleese, who spoke out (centre) for gay people
Pope Francis said he would “study” a memo given to him by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone about this – “It touched my heart, that is why I wanted to repeat it during my speech [at Dublin Castle],” he told journalists on the plane back to Rome.
The Minister told him of the case involving more than 700 babies buried in a septic tank.
He said the proposal to ask for forgiveness during the Mass at Dublin’s Phoenix Park came from meeting survivors of abuse.
He said he had been told nothing of Magdalene laundries, industrial schools and mother-and-baby homes.
Francis asked for forgiveness for abuses “of power, conscience, and sexual abuse perpetrated by those with roles of responsibility in the church”.
He told reporters: “I had never heard of these mothers, they call it the laundromat of women where an unwed woman is pregnant and goes into these hospitals, I don’t know what they call them, schools, run by the nuns and then they gave children to the people in adoption.
“It was for me painful [to hear] but with the awareness that I have could help clear these things up.”
People can distinguish from truth and half-truths, the pope said.
Asked about LGBT issues, he added: “What do I say to a father if the son or daughter has this tendency. Pray, don’t condemn. Understand, make space to let them express themselves,” he said. “Silence is not a remedy.”
Francis told bishops they must address clerical child sex abuse with honesty and courage.
He said: “We ask forgiveness for the abuses, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church.
“In a special way, we ask pardon for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions run by males or female religious and by other members of the church, and we ask for forgiveness for those cases of manual work that so many young women and men were subjected to. We ask for forgiveness.
“We ask for forgiveness for some of the church hierarchy who did not take charge of these situations and kept quiet.
“We ask for forgiveness for all those times in which many single mothers were told that to seek their children who had been separated from them – and the same being said to daughters and sons themselves – that this was a mortal sin. This is not a mortal sin. We ask for forgiveness.”
Ending the prayer, Francis said: “Give us the strength to work for justice. Amen.”
The crowd in Dublin included about 20,000 pilgrims from all over the world attending the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families, a global gathering held every three years.
The Minister said there was a “clear sense of recognition” on the pope’s face when she mentioned the Co Galway home to him during his visit to Ireland at the weekend.
Ms Zappone said she told the pope in person, and in a letter, that she hopes the Catholic Church will make reparation to the women and babies who lived in the Co Galway home, where “significant quantities of infant bones” were found in a series of chambers which may have formed part of sewage treatment works.
Historian Catherine Corless has found death certificates but no burial records for 796 infants between 1925 and 1961 at the home. She believes only a full exhumation and DNA analysis may establish how many died there and how many may have been sent for adoption, after death certificates were falsified.
Meanwhile on Monday, a poll in the Irish Times revealed that a clear majority of Irish people say that Pope Francis “did not go far enough” when he addressed the issue of child sex abuse.
Asked “on the issue of child sex abuse within the church, did the Pope go far enough during his visit to address the issue or did he not go far enough?” 55 per cent of respondents said Pope Francis had not gone far enough.
Just under a third (31 per cent) agreed he had gone far enough, while 14 per cent said they had no opinion.
During his visit, the pope repeatedly asked for forgiveness for the failures of the church, both for the crimes of clerics and for the failures of the hierarchy to deal with them. The pontiff also held a private meeting with victims of clerical abuse in which he was highly critical of cover-ups in the church.
The poll was conducted among 750 adults via telephone by Ipsos MRBI for The Irish Times. The accuracy is estimated to be plus or minus 3.6 per cent
- A cultural Catholic is one who still describes herself as Catholic and uses the Church for rites of passage – births, marriages and funerals but attends infrequently Mass on Sundays and disagrees with teachings on such matters as LGBT rights and other strictures.