It would be a shame if last week’s papal trip to Ireland was judged simply as a referendum as to how the Church is handling the sex abuse crisis. While Pope Francis went to Ireland to affirm the World Meeting of Families, most of the headlines of the week surrounded the recent grand jury report about clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania and Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals as well as the history of abuse in Ireland.
The grand jury called for greater accountability on the part of the Catholic hierarchy for what it saw as a cover-up by bishops of the criminal activities of priests. By the time that Pope Francis was ready to board his flight to Dublin, the press wanted to know what he is going to do to tighten the reins on how the Vatican deals with bishops and their handling of abusive priests.
The general feeling was that the Irish visit was doomed unless the pope took some decisive action on the sex abuse scandal.
It was unrealistic to expect the pope to unveil a detailed plan of the handling of the crisis during his pastoral visit to Dublin. But certainly, the scandal of clergy sex abuse loomed large over the trip to Ireland.
The Holy Father spoke strongly several times about the abuse issue during his 36-hour stay on the Emerald Isle, but the main focus of his words and actions was the importance of family life as the centerpiece of society.
It’s in the family, the Holy Father reminded us, that we all took our first steps. It’s where we learned about relationships, resolving conflict and dealing with the world around us.
As he has done in the past, he emphasized the value of grandparents to the family structure. He said that any society that does not value its older members is doomed to fail. For it is in the experience of grandparents that children learn true wisdom and can better cope with life’s trials.
During the Festival of Families in Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium, he listened to the experiences of different families – families that had been challenged by addiction, upheaval, social media and war. He praised their loyalty to one another, their faithfulness and commitment, and their tenacity to carry on. He explained that their strength is one another, in being members of a family and he urged us to view the Church as “a family among families.”
Within the context of a family, he addressed the sexual abuse of minors and rebuked the “failure of ecclesiastical authorities” to protect young people.
“Each child is in fact a precious gift of God, to be cherished, encouraged to develop his or her gifts, and guided to spiritual maturity and human flourishing,” said the pope.
The bonds of a family unite us.
Pope Francis quotes St. Paul when he says that all other things will pass away, but “love never ends.”
Pope Francis was correct when he addressed the ugliness of sexual abuse as destructive of family life. That was the message he left us with last week. The action plan of how the Church will attack that sin will be unveiled as we muddle our ways through this dark hour.
But last week’s celebration of the family was a time to appreciate what makes us who we are.