Pope Francis’s visit and change in the Catholic Church


Sir, – On August 13th I returned to Cambodia on missionary work in response to Pope Francis’s call for religious to work in solidarity with the caravan of the peoples of the world, and to go if necessary to the ends of the earth.

I write to share of what it is like at this distance of 10,000km to hear of further clerical sexual abuse on a massive scale. I am deeply distressed and disturbed by these relentless and ongoing revelations, and especially shocked that consistently at the highest levels the church which I love and serve has covered up these crimes and still tries to do so.

Just prior to my return here, I viewed Wim Wenders’s documentary Pope Francis – A Man of His Word. The film reveals a man of radical humility and courage, who challenges the viewer to accountability for the global crises of the 21st century. One moment speaks volumes to me: Francis speaking directly to the individual viewer, speaks of the urgency to be an “Apostle of the Ear” – women and men who listen well. In his role as pope, Francis too is an “Apostle of the Ear”, who mustlisten to the truth, however shocking, and to respond as best he can.

At this critical moment, I beg him to listen to the cry of those whose lives have been devastated by clerical child abuse and to the worldwide call for justice for them and punishment for the perpetrators and those who colluded with them. This is Pope Francis’s God-given task now: he must not be deaf, but honour his own words: “Zero tolerance!”

He must make his own the challenge given 800 years ago to Francis of Assisi: “Repair my church, which as you see is falling into ruins.”

This is the most critical moment of his pontificate. He must be an apostle of the ear and hear what everyone of goodwill is calling for, and then follow through by dealing truthfully and firmly with all who, at whatever level of the institutional church, have colluded in this massive cover-up. With the rest of the faithful, I implore the Spirit of love and truth to guide him now. – Yours, etc,


Union of the Sisters

of the Presentation

of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

Xavier Jesuit School,

Banteay Meanchey,


Sir, – To a practising Catholic struggling with a woefully inadequate institution, Patsy McGarry’s article “A Catholic faith that prevails despite all” (Weekend Review, August 11th) was a welcome reminder that there is so much more to the Catholic faith than child abuse and its concealment. He concluded his article by asking whether “the church deserves Ireland’s Catholics or their loyalty”. This brought to mind a statement by Blessed Oscar Romero of El Salvador. In an interview shortly before his death, he said that: “A bishop will die, but the church, which is the people of God, will never perish”.

While I wish all our bishops long life and good health, this prophetic statement is an analogy for an institution that is long overdue a renewal. The church is not the institution or the hierarchy, it is the people. In a week where we have seen yet another weak apology on the subject of child abuse by Catholic clergy, and a bishop who says the availability of contraception makes it difficult for women to say no to unwanted sex, I say the institution does not deserve its church.

The core message of the Catholic Church is love and community living; a right relationship with God, Self, and Other. A relationship that so many Catholics seek to live out in their daily lives. In failing to robustly address the sinful issue of child abuse the institution has failed its people, most especially its children.

As a family of God, the church must change its hierarchical model and draw on the gifts of it all its people, including the laity and most especially women. I very much doubt had parents, mothers of families, been involved in historical decision-making, that child abusers would have been protected and moved from parish to parish where they could desecrate lives with impunity.

Pope Francis, who has supported the canonisation of Archbishop Romero, has done much to return the church to its roots as a humble, compassionate church of the poor. A cause for hope, but more radical action is needed if the church, the people of God, is to continue as a cohesive force for good, for compassion, and as a faith that does justice in a troubled world. – Yours, etc,



Co Mayo.

Sir, – The word “Catholic” may refer to a set of beliefs, to particular rituals, to a laity or clergy, or to institutions. It may be used to describe certain literature, music, art or architecture.

A cultural Catholic is typically someone who has grown up in its traditions, but no longer practices or fully believes. They still admire aspects of Catholic culture and tend to dip in and out. There remains with them a nostalgia for the rituals, and they might unashamedly admire a cathedral or enjoy listening to a choir.

They see virtue in the beliefs, and value in the dedication of many Catholics. From a secular perspective there is no contradiction or harm in this. Nor is there hypocrisy, or pretence to virtue. Cultural Catholics are generally quite open about rejecting key doctrines, and vociferous in objecting to abuses of power, while still being able to see value in aspects of a tradition they no longer fully accept. They may also recognise that among the Catholic community there have been good and bad people, without concluding that a bad Catholic means that Catholicism is bad or a good Catholic means that Catholicism is good.

Diarmaid Ferriter’s article dismissing cultural Catholics as lazy hypocrites presents a rambling argument that conflates the abhorrent behaviour of some priests, and the cover-up of that behaviour by some bishops, with doctrines and traditions which in no way support such acts (“‘Cultural Catholic’ is a euphemism for lazy hypocrite”, Opinion & Analysis, August 18th). The institutions and the clergy responsible have much to answer for and are deservedly traduced. But a belief system is separate from the people that hold to it. Virtue in the former does not guarantee virtue in the latter, and failures in the latter don’t invalidate the virtues of the former. The belief system remains as it is despite the failures of people. It will continue, and many adherents will continue to fail to live up to its precepts. Some disastrously so. To expect otherwise is to deny what we know of human nature.

Ordinary cultural Catholicism, from a secular perspective anyway, is fine. The pernicious culture in the institutions of the church that saw the clergy as outside the law no matter how egregious the crime, and the culture in State institutions that saw secular powers bow to religious authority, must not be allowed to return. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – John Halligan has said that he will not attend the reception for Pope Francis. His Holiness must be devastated. I hope that this does not lead him to cancel his visit. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Sir, Diarmaid Ferriter questions the reasons for the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

But he does not include the most important reason, which is rarely ever mentioned as contributing to this decline; namely the disrespect for women.

Women were always the best for keeping the faith in families, from prompting their children to become priests, to attend the sacraments, and generally being involved in the Catholic Church at local level.

But women are no longer prepared to believe that they are second-class citizens, in the church or anywhere else.

They have given up on trying to tell that to those in power in the church, and they and their families have abandoned regular attendance or involvement; hence the fall-off in congregations.

Of course other unfortunate events have accelerated the decline, but until women are recognised as equal in leadership qualities, we can hardly expect them to embrace the inequality in the Catholic Church, or continue their loyalty. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 3.