To some extent, it’s undoubtedly unfair to reduce Pope Francis’s visit to Ireland this weekend entirely to a referendum on his handling of the Church’s clerical sexual abuse scandals. The vastly changed social landscape compared to the last time a pope was here almost 40 years ago was visible, among other things, from the relatively light crowds that packed city streets as Pope Francis moved through Dublin.
Just hours after Pope Francis condemned the “repugnant crimes” of sexual abuse by clergy during his two-day trip to Ireland, news broke in the United States that a former papal ambassador to the country is accusing Pope Francis of having known about abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and failing to act.
Pope Francis on Saturday met eight survivors of clerical abuse for 90 minutes during his 32-hour trip to Ireland. The group included not only those sexually abused by clergy, but also people who spent time in industrial schools and mother and baby homes, all of which have been the settings for abuse scandals.
Cardinal Blase Cupich offered a powerful admission that Church leaders “cannot pretend to teach” on matters such as the family and love without acknowledging the scandal of clerical sex abuse, which looms ever larger over the global Catholic Church at the moment.
When Colm O’Gorman left home just after he turned 18 years old, he spent six months on the streets of Dublin homeless and wondering what he did wrong in life to be sexually abused by a Catholic priest for years. Now he’s only left with words to describe the agony of long ago, but the horror never left him.
Catholics filled with righteous anger over the vile behavior of the former archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, and Catholics determined to help reform the Church in order to cleanse the Church and prevent similar wickedness in the future, have something to learn from Rabbi Fackenheim. In our case, the lesson must be: Don’t give the Evil One victories.
Many of our Bishops in the United States have reflected wisely and well on the situation facing the Church in the United States concerning the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing incidents is just the latest in a sad and shameful story.
In a forceful letter released just ahead of his Aug. 25-26 trip to Ireland, and just after the blistering Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on sex abuse crimes and cover-ups in six dioceses, Pope Francis wrote Monday “no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”
Although Pope Francis got credit from survivors for good intentions after a letter on Monday on the abuse crisis in which he confessed that the Church “showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” the overall reaction perhaps could be summarized as, “We’ve heard it all before.”
If Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington is forced to resign after last week’s Pennsylvania Grand Jury report raised questions over his handling of abuser priests while head of the Pittsburgh diocese, a leading victims’ advocate believes “many cardinals and bishops would also have to go.”