Ireland and the Catholic Church must build a new relationship, where the church stands ready "at the service of the Irish people", the Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, has said.
“I make a humble plea to all who want to begin with us again in a new way, what the Taoiseach called a new covenant; let’s rebuild a church at the service of Irish society,” he said.
Reflecting on the changes in Irish society since 1979 in the wake of last month's visit by Pope Francis, Bishop Leahy said: "Today it's a church that has gone through humiliation and purification.
“There was a blindness in the church then as to what was lurking within but today our eyes are open,” he said, “Yet one undeniable constant between now and 1979 was the sense of celebration of our faith.
“It was everywhere I turned. At a time when many have – for one reason or another, not least the scandals that have hit the church – shied away from public expressions of faith, people felt released from shackles for the weekend. The freedom and joy as they celebrated being part of God’s kingdom was remarkable and not seen since 1979 in this country,” he said.
But,“without ever eclipsing the acknowledgement of the negative, we need to be careful that we don’t pull ourselves down as a society, reading our past only in its negativity. That would be untrue to the past and not fair to the present and hamper future possibilities.
“I would make an appeal that, as a society, we do not quench or suffocate the possibilities of new beginnings that were enkindled,” during the visit of Pope Francis, he said.
“Clearly those who attended the ceremonies in Dublin and Knock have a deep love of their faith and we must continue to nourish that. It is our mission. The sins of the past cannot be allowed to cloud over that mission,” he said.
“However, we also have an obligation to those who feel alienated, hurt and disavowed by the grave crimes committed by clergy and religious,” he said.
“We must do more to encourage those who have been abused in any way but have not already come forward, to report their abuse. We must do this to support them, help with healing if possible, identify those responsible and bring justice.”
Huge strides have been made to improve the safeguarding of children, though “recently, lingering doubts about church transparency have been expressed”, he said.
“The church must always co-operate fully with State authorities in this area.” If there remains any member of the clergy or religious who is hiding some dark secret or intention in the area of abuse of minors I plead with them to come forward immediately and own up to this, again to State and church authorities. Do not put yourself in a situation where the poison within can infect others. There is no place for this in God’s house,” he said.