Lessons from the papal visit


Sir, – The Taoiseach has been rightly praised for his remarkable speech at Dublin Castle on Saturday and commended for his reference to the State’s own past failings towards its vulnerable citizens.

He could in fact have gone much further. The Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, had a duty of care for all its citizens which in the case of the dispossessed it chose, deliberately, to ignore.

Instead, it totally abrogated its responsibility to the churches, in particular to the Catholic Church. It was the State’s primary responsibility and not that of the church to provide succour to those in need, though this was central to the latter’s mission. Effectively no effort was made by the State to supervise how the extraordinary powers it had thus conferred were actually used. And it would be quite wrong to say that the State did not know what was going on in the industrial schools, mother-and-baby homes and orphanages and other places where abuse of the defenceless was rife. Senior civil servants and powerful politicians, right up to the taoisigh of the day, were made quite aware from time to time of conditions in these institutions but chose to ignore them.

This does not of course exonerate in any way the betrayal by individual religious and more especially the Catholic church leadership of their mission. It does however reflect the misogynistic, even Manichean attitudes of Irish society then prevailing to the underdog. Equally, it challenges the simplistic reading of Irish history current in some of our media today. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – The pope’s visit at the weekend was a great success. It had a cathartic effect in releasing pent-up emotions in a population badly in need of a spiritual uplift. As I watched the obvious stress and strain the man had to endure, the words of the poet AE Housman came to mind:

It’s a fearful thing to be

The Pope.

That cross will not be laid

on me,

I hope.

A righteous God would

not permit


The Pope himself must

often say,

After the labours of the day, ‘It’s a fearful thing to be


Back in the Vatican, the pontiff himself has much to think about and act upon following his memorable visit. – Yours, etc,



Co Roscommon.