Pope must admit Vatican disregard for abused on Irish visit

Saying sorry it happened, sorry you were hurt, does not cut it any more

When Pope Francis comes to Ireland in two weeks' time it will be 39 years since the last visit by a head of the Catholic Church. Since then the status of the church in Ireland has declined dramatically.

Those identifying as Catholic are down by 20 per cent, according to the last census. Mass attendance has fallen away, seminaries and religious houses have closed, and parishes are now often run by a single priest.

The majority of people no longer look to the church for guidance in their everyday lives. When the leadership speaks out on current issues as during the two recent recent referendums many, particularly the young, are antagonistic or indifferent. The church in Ireland has lost respect and credibility.

A main reason for this has been due to actions by the church itself, including the way in which its clerics and religious have abused their power. The guilty are those who destroyed the lives of untold numbers of men, women and children in orphanages, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, and through sexually assaulting children in parishes.


Protected perpetrators

But not those alone. The church leadership in Ireland and in Rome who allowed this to happen are equally to blame. They protected perpetrators and refused to take responsibility when this became known.

The Vatican has been complicit in this cover-up through withholding approval for safeguarding provisions prepared by the Irish bishops, for canon law reasons, and arrogantly ignoring requests from two Irish State inquiries for documents.

Pope Francis must be aware of all this. Saying sorry it happened, sorry you were hurt, does not cut it anymore. We have heard it all.

The bishops in Ireland are still using data protection laws to avoid sharing information with their own safeguarding office

What is needed to restore some respect for the church and to give struggling Catholics hope for the future, is for the pope to admit responsibility. He should do so on behalf of the church for the part played by the hierarchy and the Vatican’s systemic obsession with secrecy and canon law – which showed a total disregard for the lives of the abused people concerned – in all of this.

Many survivors no longer care what the church says but others are still waiting to see it take responsibility for its actions.

Data protection laws

The bishops in Ireland are still using data protection laws to avoid sharing information with their own safeguarding office. The religious orders are still refusing to honour their financial commitments to survivors, and what happened in Ireland is still happening in countries around the world.

Currently in Australia a cardinal (Pell) is on trial for abuse and an archbishop (Wilson) has been criminally convicted of cover-up. Cardinals in Chile and France (Erazi and Barbarain) are facing criminal charges for protecting abusers and yet go undisciplined by the church.

In the US Cardinal McCarrick was allowed use his position of power over young seminarians/priests for decades, for his sexual pleasure. In India a bishop (Mulakkal) is accused of raping a nun and was then being protected by a cardinal (Alencherry).

In Croatia a priest (Ljubicic), jailed for abusing five boys, is regularly invited to assist the local bishop (Petanjak) on the altar in his cathedral. It goes on and on and we are supposed to believe these leaders are protecting our children.

What are the pope and his Vatican administrators doing to stop this? There is firefighting in specific cases when these become public, but that is not a solution.

As a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors I saw structures that might call a halt to all of this pushed aside by Vatican administrators, with no regard for the young or vulnerable.

Arrogance and detachment

The pope is not an arrogant man but the actions of these administrators show arrogance and detachment. The infighting at the Vatican between pro- and anti-Francis factions undoubtedly weaken his ability to get things done but he must be strong when it comes to child protection.

Pope Francis will be here as part of the World Meeting of Families, an event that will be attended by families from 116 countries. What more appropriate setting for him to speak of this global crisis in the church, which affects families at their core, than during this event?

He should admit the responsibility the Vatican and church leadership hold for past events in Ireland and set out how he is going to deal with the abuses happening today in other parts of the Catholic world.

He needs to do more than make promises. He must commit to action.

Dublin abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned last year from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, after serving for three years, due to its work being frustrated by Vatican officials