Pope’s visit: Bishop says church needs to recognise ‘dark aspects’ of its history

‘Cover-up and mismanagement compounded damage’

The visit of Pope Francis to Ireland is a pivotal moment for the church to acknowledge its past, good and bad, the Catholic Bishop of Limerick has said.

In a key homily delivered ahead of the second ever papal visit to Ireland, Bishop Brendan Leahy said, in some way, everyone in the church bears the shame of the dark aspects of its history.

Speaking at Mass Rock in Killeedy, Co Limerick, Bishop Leahy listed out the litany of grave issues that have damned the Catholic Church in Ireland over recent decades. He said, that as has been highlighted, cover up, wilful or otherwise, and mismanagement, had compounded the damage adding to the shame.

During what he described as his own personal pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families and visit of Pope Francis, the Bishop of Limerick said it was good to recall how much the Church contributed to Irish society. But to acknowledge with gratitude the good can never eclipse recognition of sin, criminality and evil, he added.


“We need to acknowledge the dark aspects of our Church’s history that have come to light especially in recent decades - a clericalism that ended up confusing power and ministry, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and religious that did untold life-long damage to victims, the violent and repressive treatment by church representatives of young people sent to the State’s reformatory institutions, the dark experience of vulnerable women in places meant to be residences of refuge.

“Sadly, as has been highlighted, cover-up, wilful or otherwise, and mismanagement compounded the damage, adding to our shame.”

Bishop Leahy delivered his Feast of the Assumption of Mary homily on Wednesday morning at Mass Rock in Kileedy following earlier mass at Ashford Church. He chose the location as a symbolic gesture to bring, as is needed he said, the Catholic Church out into the open and to acknowledge the inspiration of not just Mary herself but also Limerick's own St Ita, after whom the parish of Killeedy is named.

We need, he said, to prepare for the Pope’s coming with a desire to want to “repair” the Church first of all by seeking forgiveness for the sins of the past.

“We know that not every bishop or priest or sister or brother or lay person engaged in church circles was bad. And we know that not everyone was good. Those of us of a certain age, however, know many, many who were very kind, caring and helpful.

“But to acknowledge with gratitude the good can never eclipse recognition of sin, criminality and evil. In some way, everyone in the church bears the shame of these darks aspects of our history. Few of us can throw stones as if we ourselves were not somehow associated,” he continued.

Bishop Leahy said even though the Catholic Church in Ireland now has a range of services in place and very active training programmes in safeguarding, it needs to know how to stay with an awareness of the pervasiveness of abuse and those dark parts of our human nature that tend to exploit weakness and vulnerability.

“As well as needing to pray for those who have been wounded we need to keep listening and to learn from them how to clarify and repair our church,” he added.

Bishop Leahy said the church of tomorrow will be very different, and appealed directly to young people to find a way forward to reconnect youth cultures and church.

“Might this visit of Pope Francis be a moment when young people might look again at what the Church really has to offer? We need you because you are part of our access to what God is saying to the Church today. We need you to help us find the ways towards the future that God has marked out for us all.”