THE POPE VISITS IRELAND
- The Pope will make a flying visit to the Republic of Ireland on 25 and 26 August – the first visit of a Pope to the country since 1979.
- He will attend the World Meeting of Families, where families gather to emphasise the importance of family life.
- As well as public events, such as Mass in Phoenix Park, Pope Francis will also meet the Irish president.
- The Vatican says Pope Francis will also meet victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
- This is a major international trip at a time when sexual abuse allegations have once again rocked the Church, with revelations that priests in Pennsylvania had abused minors over seven decades, amid systematic cover-up by the church. In a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the Pope condemned the “atrocities” of child sex abuse and clerical cover-ups and asked for forgiveness.
- The Irish Survivors of Child Abuse has asked for a meeting with Pope, angry that the Irish state has paid more compensation than the Church to victims of abuse in religious institutions.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin, the head of Ireland’s Catholic Church, told the BBC that the Pope would address the issue of sex abuse and reassure people that any member of a family involved in any activity of the Church would in future be as safe there as they would be at home.
- This is the first Papal visit to Ireland for almost 40 years, but it is not the Pope’s first visit to Ireland. As Father Jorge Bergoglio, he visited the Jesuit community at Milltown Park in Dublin in 1980.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE VISIT
- Saturday 25 August: Pope Francis arrives in Dublin and is officially welcomed by President Michael D. Higgins. Later he will visit St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, followed by a centre for the homeless, and then in the evening preside at the Festival of Families at Croke Park stadium.
- Sunday 26 August: The Pope will leave Dublin early in the morning to visit the shrine of Knock. Returning to Dublin at lunchtime, he will preside over Mass in Phoenix Park, then meet the Irish bishops. He leaves Ireland at 6.30pm, local time.
THE WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES
This event takes place every three years and was instituted in 1994 by Pope St John Paul II. This year’s theme is “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World”. It is intended as an event to bring families together to pray and reflect upon the importance of marriage and the family. The two institutions play a significant role in Catholicism, and as such, have been on the frontline of the Vatican’s sometimes-troubled relationship with contemporary society.
THEN AND NOW
- The last papal visit to Ireland was made by Pope John Paul II (now a saint) in 1979.
- Nearly 40 years on, Ireland has changed from a bastion of conservative Catholicism to a European state that is, in some ways, at the forefront of changes in sexual and personal lifestyles. In 1979, divorce was illegal in Ireland, as was abortion, and same-sex marriage was unheard of. Now, all three of these issues have been legalised, most recently abortion, an issue that was decided by referendum.
- The Catholic Church officially opposed all three, though like elsewhere in Europe, individual Catholics have often been at odds with their bishops.
- Later this year, the Irish will vote in another referendum, this time on whether to abolish the crime of blasphemy, a uniquely theological crime that was written into the 1937 constitution. The British actor Stephen Fry was investigated under blasphemy laws in 2015 after Irish police received a complaint over an interview with Irish national broadcaster RTÉ in which he called God stupid, selfish and “quite clearly a maniac”.
- In all these issues the Church has found itself on the back foot. It has been fighting on two fronts: first, the decline in religious attendance and belief which has hit Ireland as it has other countries, resulting in individuals being less likely to accept the Church’s interpretation of the truth. Second, the Church’s own moral authority has been repeatedly discredited by a succession of abuse scandals, in Ireland and across the world.
Allegations over sex abuse surfaced in the 1980s but the first conviction was in 1994. Since then there have been several Church and state investigations.
- June 1994: Father Brendan Smyth is jailed for four years for child abuse.
- May 2009: The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse found, after a nine-year inquiry, that children had been abused by priests in Catholic institutions over five decades from 1930.
- November 2009: The Murphy Report found widespread abuse in Dublin between 1975 and 2004 which the Church had “obsessively” concealed. All Irish bishops were summoned to the Vatican. Four resigned, but the Pope accepted only two.
- March 2010: Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish Catholic Church, faced calls to resign for being present at meetings in 1975 where children signed vows of silence over complaints against Brendan Smyth.
- 20 March 2010: Pope Benedict XVI apologised to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland and announced an “apostolic visitation”, when bishops outside Ireland investigated the Church, institutions and victims of abuse.
- July 2011: A report into the handling of sex abuse claims in the diocese of Cloyne in County Cork said senior clergy were trying to cover up abuse and that the Vatican was complicit. The Irish parliament deplored the role of the Vatican, which later recalled its ambassador to Ireland.
- February 2013: A government report into Ireland’s notorious Magdalene Laundries found that 10,000 women and girls were forced into unpaid work from 1922 until 1996.
- June 2014: An unmarked grave with the remains of hundreds of babies was found in the grounds of a former “mother-and-baby home” run by Catholic nuns. A government commission investigated allegations that 800 children were buried there.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION
- Ireland has not just changed socially since Pope John Paul II visited. Politically, the island of Ireland is also a very different place.
- Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, is largely at peace after decades of civil unrest between Catholics and Protestants. Yet the power-sharing government there remains suspended after a succession of disagreements between the political parties representing the Unionist and Republican communities. The province is now being ruled directly from London. The Pope will not be crossing the border, but some Protestant ministers from Ulster will go to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.
- In the Republic of Ireland, the Taoiseach (prime minister) is Leo Varadkar, a gay man of joint Indian/Irish heritage. The Church teaches that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered”. Varadkar and other politicians say they intend to talk to Pope Francis about issues around sexuality and abuse.
- The partition of Ireland, into what eventually became the Republic, and Northern Ireland, was made not just around British v nationalist sympathies, but also on Catholic v Protestant.
- The Pope is viewed as a hate figure among some Protestant unionists in Northern Ireland, and the late Dr Ian Paisley, a unionist politician, once described him as the Antichrist.
- In Dublin, the Pope will visit the Pro-Cathedral of St Mary. The “pro” reflects the fact that the Vatican uses St Mary’s on a temporary basis; it still officially lays claim to Christ Church Cathedral, but both it and St Patrick’s Cathedral have been in the hands of the Protestant Church of Ireland since the Reformation.
- Not everyone is happy to see the Pope. There have been calls for protests at the Church’s role in child sexual abuse over several decades, the horrifying details of which have been laid bare by several official reports.
- “Say Nope to the Pope” has called on people to book tickets for public events attended by the Pope, but then not attend, in order to leave empty seats in full view of the TV cameras.
- Another worry for the Vatican is indifference. It’s estimated that about one third of the Irish population saw Pope John Paul II say Mass in Phoenix Park in 1979. This time, only 500,000 tickets have been issued. The Vatican will be counting on Pope Francis’s “superstar” status to bring out the crowds.