Pope's visit to Ireland: ‘May God forgive the misguided views of this church’

A selection of responses to an ‘Irish Times’ invitation to write an open letter to the pope

Dear Pope Francis: the pontiff is visiting Ireland on August 25th and 26th. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Dear Pope Francis: the pontiff is visiting Ireland on August 25th and 26th. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters


Dear Pope Francis,

I was brought up in a caring and loving Irish family that had a long association with the Catholic Church. We attended Catholic schools. We went to confession and communion, and we listened intently to the messages of the church.

I am no longer a member of the church. I no longer listen to the advice offered by the Vatican or its authorised assembly. In fact, to be frank, I see the Catholic Church as little more than a cult. An institution that has been given far too much authority around the world.

You have spoken powerfully on a number of issues, so I will listen intently to your messages when you arrive in Ireland. But I will not be satisfied with just kind words, blessings and apologies. I will be looking for a change. The Catholic Church must be compelled to open its doors to the scrutiny of public institutions. And, in doing so, allow some fresh air into the putrid remains of its self-built closets. – Yours, etc,
Ballinasloe, Co Galway.

Dear Pope Francis,

Céad míle fáilte go hÉirinn, Your Holiness. I recall the visit in 1979 of Pope John Paul II to our fair land. What an occasion. And I was in the Phoenix Park on that momentous day. I won’t be there on this occasion.

It’s not that I dislike you, Pope Francis, no. In fact you appear to be a warm and kind man. If I can explain, my husband and I have been blessed with two wonderful children. In 1979 our daughter was a delightful six-year-old, and our then baby son was all of two years of age. They have grown into two incredibly wonderful and loving people.

Our daughter married in 1998 but, sadly, as happens in real life, her marriage ended in divorce, despite her best efforts to save it. Thank God she has since remarried, to a wonderful and loving man, and has five lovely children. The old adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger rings true – and she is that: strong.

Our darling baby son is now a 41-year-old man with a heart of 24-carat gold and is goodness and kindness personified. He is also gay.

So you see my dilemma. This Catholic Church does not recognise either of our children. After all, in the eyes of this “Christian” church, both of our children are sinners.

May the God that I pray to forgive the narrow-minded and misguided views of this church. The God that I pray to is, like my children, kind and loving. They were created from love, the same love that endures today as it did 47 years ago. I wonder when this Catholic Church will have the courage to include all of God’s children in its doctrines. Maybe it will be you all, Pope Francis, who take the giant leap of faith and love. Who knows? In the meantime, we wait and hope and pray.

Welcome to Ireland, Your Holiness. – Yours, etc,
(Full name and address known to the Editor.)

Dear Pope Francis,

Mary McAleese served as president of this country with great distinction for 14 years. She is a Catholic and a canon lawyer. More than any practising Catholic in this country, she has had the courage to publicly and repeatedly call a spade a spade in relation to misogyny, homophobia and paedophilia – evils ingrained within the dogma, institutions and practices of the church.

For raising her head above the parapet and representing the views of many Catholics, Mary McAleese has been treated in a disgraceful, cowardly manner by the Vatican authorities – including you.

When Pope John Paul II came to Ireland, in 1979, he no doubt heard all that he wanted to hear from the ecclesiastical alickadoos and papal cheerleaders – including Bishop Eamonn Casey and Fr Michael Cleary, with whom he shared a platform.

This time around I would like to think, Pope Francis, that you would have the courtesy and backbone to listen, in person, to a woman who will tell you not what you want to hear but what you badly need to hear.

You may, however, like your predecessor, prefer just to sit back and enjoy a chorus of Pharisees – as well as, of course, Nathan and Daniel. – Yours, etc,
Catholic, medical consultant, UCD clinical professor,
Terenure, Dublin.

Dear Pope Francis,

I am a priest working here in Scotland. For well over 20 years I have been supporting victims of clergy abuse. I have seen the pain and the hurt that such abuse causes. Many of the victims have left the church; many others have left too because of the abuse. I have good reason to say that senior figures in the church have covered up the abuse, putting the reputation of the church before the wellbeing of the victims. The victims have been treated with contempt, and those who have sought to highlight the abuse have been crucified. I don’t use that word lightly.

What has happened to the church that I love and serve? I’m afraid the answer is simple. The notion of service has gone out of the window. Power and control have replaced it, and those with the power and control have used them to harm our children. Those priests and religious who abused victims are like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. Will the church ever recover? I doubt it. God only knows the suffering that victims of abuse have endured, and not only the victims but also their families. I hope you can understand the frustration of one who simply wants to do the right thing, the thing that God expects and that victims deserve. – Yours, etc,

What if

What if the pope walked the streets of Dublin
What if he said nothing else except I’m sorry
What if he abandoned
The preplanned homily
What if he just said, Popolo d’Irlanda
Mi dispiace
, Gente de irlanda lo siento,
Muintir na hÉireann tá brón orm
People of Ireland I’m sorry
Templeogue, Dublin.

Dear Pope Francis,

I went to confession on Sunday. This was after Patsy McGarry’s article “The faith of Ireland’s Catholics continues, despite all” was published, on Saturday, August 11th.

I am not Irish, but I am a working young adult settled here, trying to grapple with the place of God in my life. As is perhaps common enough, I went to Mass as a child, although I stopped as a teenager, relying on the wisdom we all believe to possess at that time in our lives.

For a few years then I led what many might like to call a sinful life, which was nothing other than a very regular young person’s life – the life of somebody who is growing and learning about oneself and the world. I am now a few months short of my 28th birthday.

I have been in a stable relationship for eight years and happily engaged for the past two. I have always had long, enriching discussions with my partner about philosophy, politics, society and, more and more often, belief. With time we have both naturally come to think less about ourselves and more about our future children and the world they will grow up in.

Out of no other kind of pressure but our own personal searching we started going to Mass again a few months ago. At a time when the foundations of western societies are being so dangerously shaken from inside and out, and people of all ages struggle to find real meaning, it made sense for me to humbly accept what many seem to forget or wilfully ignore: that there is timeless wisdom in the message of Jesus and the Christian tradition, which is deeply rooted in what we see as our basic secular values and morals.

After more than 10 years I decided to go to confession this Sunday. It took courage, as taking a hard look at oneself and admitting we do not know it all is never easy. I was determined, though, and full of big questions about faith and doubt, and negotiating today’s world as a Christian.

Before I had even been able to put my thoughts in order in the confessional, however, Fr M just went through a checklist of queries about petty arguments with friends and family, about being unkind, about committing “sins of a sexual nature”.

I confess to almighty God, and to you, the reader, that my heart sank and I gave up on my questions. Yes, sometimes I am selfish and lose my temper, or give too much importance to material things. And, yes, I share moments of intimacy with my long-term partner, with whom I want to form a family in the future.

I know my wrongs from my rights, those that are part of a very fortunate and normal life, and I can deal with them in moments of prayer or silence. But I do feel the need for guidance on reconciling my belief and beliefs, and for that I need to be engaged with as an adult, not as a child being reprimanded by the schoolmaster.

Why should anybody be surprised by young people having issues staying in or returning to the church when even those of us who are eager to learn, understand and challenge ourselves are left wanting for a truly open listening ear? Why would they not “seek refuge in a personal god”, if not in the creeds of ideological conviction or nihilism?

One of my self-confessed sins is my stubbornness, so I will go to Mass again next Sunday to listen, to think and, afterwards, to discuss. Next confession will probably have to wait a while. – Yours, etc,
(Full name and address known to the Editor.)

Dear Pope Francis,

I hope you will be pleased with your forthcoming visit to Ireland, and I’m sure you will have a great Irish welcome when you get here. The most important event of your visit will for me be when you meet the 80 or so homeless people in the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People on your first day in our country. This is not only because you will, as a world leader, be mixing and talking to people who are often forgotten, and thought of as unimportant, but also because you will be reaching out spiritually to poor people who might happen to be non-Christian or atheist.

It seems to me that Catholic priests often have few words, spiritual or otherwise, to say to people who are atheists, without being critical of them and trying to convert them. Last Sunday I heard a priest at a Mass televised on RTÉ say to his listeners not to dilute the Catholic faith. When priests make such general statements no questions are asked about what they mean and what examples could pinpoint their exact meaning. They give the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that ordinary Catholics should not engage in spiritual heart-to-hearts with non-Catholics, non-Christians or atheists, in case those Catholics might start to change their minds about their own practices and beliefs.

I hope that you, Pope Francis, by talking to struggling atheists about what their basic spiritual needs really are, and without trying to convert them, will be setting an example for everyone in the world to appreciate about something important that is really a very basic Catholic, Christian and proper human thing to do. – Yours, etc,

Dear Pope Francis,

As a 61-year-old man who grew up in Catholic Ireland, I am both indebted to and [revolted] by the church. I am indebted for my education, but I still recall the fear of going to school each day, wondering if I would be caned for an incorrect answer or if the brother was just in one of those moods when he wanted to beat a child with a cane or leather or fist.

Fear is the most potent memory of my school days. And yet on a relatively recent visit to my old school, when I had a cup of tea with a brother who used to teach me – and was, remarkably, still teaching – I was amazed at his passion for education. He said that, for him, education was a means of freeing poor people from poverty, and I largely agree with him.

My parents were quite devout Catholics, and we were brought up in that tradition, but as soon as I left home I gave up on Catholicism and, indeed, God. I could not reconcile the lectures I had about the love of God with the treatment we received from his emissaries. The abuses of the church are well documented, and I was lucky in so far as I was not violated in the way many of my peers were, but to try to hide this abuse is the greatest crime.

We know now of the laundries run by nuns, of unspeakable abuses of young girls and boys.

Where was God then? I do hold the church responsible, not least because of the practice of celibacy – a church law, not God’s law. With fewer people entering the vocation, it is only a matter of time before the church dies. Why are you so afraid of women? Married priests could only enhance a rounded church; there really is nothing to fear.

I think there is a place for religion, even if it is just a code to live by. A sense of morality and a sense of ethics would not go amiss. Alas, your church will not provide it, and now more than ever we are sorely in need of guidance. – Yours, etc,
Basingstoke, England.

Dear Pope Francis,

I know you are a good man and follow the compassionate teachings of Christ. So it was a surprise and disappointment that I have not had even an acknowledgment of the four letters I have sent you, asking that you remove the “silence” restrictions placed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Curia on Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Brian D’Arcy, in particular.

As you know, Jesus commanded his disciples to be a servant of all and master of none – a teaching that both Fr Flannery and Fr D’Arcy followed very publicly in their preaching and writing.

Where is the justice, compared with the injustice meted out to the good and faithful priests who were “silenced”? I believe that your good work will be stymied until you reclaim authority from the congregation and the Curia. Your election gave us great hope, and we still pray that your humanity, compassion and love of Jesus Christ will prevail. – Yours, etc,

Most Holy Father,

Little did I know what plans you had in store for me on August 10th, 2018. Little did I know how much it would calm the excruciating emotional pain inside my head, and physical pain inside my body, a result of domestic abuse.

Little did my daughter know that the letter she had placed on a shelf beside a plant was actually a response from you [to a letter I had sent you]. Little did she know that it was your hand of compassion reaching out to her mother from the Vatican to Ireland. A healing letter from a pope to an Irish mother, a domestic-abuse survivor.

Little did she know that it would be a letter responding to her mother’s plea to pray for her family and mind them in prayer. That the beautifully signed picture of you given to her mother would be a face that her mother would now plead to at night, asking for your help and support.

Little did she know that the most beautiful set of white rosary beads that you had given her mother would be ones her mother would now use when deeply troubled.

Although it has been a while, Most Holy Father, since I’ve held a set of rosary beads in my hand, I now see this as a sign to pray to you, as you have kindly blessed them for me.

My children in time will know what a kind, compassionate man you are to have reached out to me. I am just an ordinary Irish woman, but I have an extraordinary drive as a mother to protect my children, who are innocent victims. I want them to have healthy lives and choose healthy relationships. I will do whatever I can in my power to make sure domestic abuse receives the legal respect and recognition that it deserves in this country. It’s the least we can do for our children.

In time I will show my children your kind words of blessing when explaining the harrowing toll that domestic abuse has had on their childhoods. Childhoods that can never be replayed or replaced.

You wrote in your letter: “The Holy Father assures you that he will remember your intentions in his prayers. Invoking upon you and your children the healing love of our Lord Jesus Christ, he sends you his blessing.”

Most Holy Father, your letter and gifts have given me the strength to continue to advocate for legal justice in relation to domestic abuse in all its forms, psychological and physical.

On that precious day, August 10th, 2018, I cried tears not only for myself but also for every Irish woman who is a domestic-abuse victim or survivor. I may not know all of their names or faces, but I want to let my voice be their voice.

The women who live in fear behind closed doors. The women who are too afraid to talk. The women who do talk but then get gaslighted. The women who do talk and then get beaten. The women who cover up their bruises. The women who show their bruises and then get abandoned by the system. The women who feel they are not abused because they have no bruises. The women who have left and survived. The women who have left and lost their lives. The women who have stayed and lost their lives. The women who want to leave but feel it’s too dangerous to leave. The women who feel they’ll never trust again. The women who feel they’ll never love again. The women who blame themselves for having loved an abusive partner.

Pope Francis, not just me but all of these women need your healing and soothing prayers of hope and encouragement when you visit this country. May God bless you in your journey to Ireland, and may the Holy Spirit protect you and offer you spiritual guidance during your visit here. – Yours, etc,
(Name known to the Editor.)

You can read letters to Pope Francis from Colm O’Gorman, Katie Ascough, Fr Peter McVerry, Mary Fleming, Fintan O’Toole, Aisling, Rosemary Kunene, Grace Dyas, Susan McKay, Sr Una Rutledge, Tara Flynn, and Cliodhna Fitzpatrick here

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