Abuse in Ireland: Pressure mounts for pope to address scandal

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis is traveling to Ireland
specifically for the World Meeting of Families, but the sex abuse crisis is
dominating headlines before his
Aug. 25-26 trip.

While coverage of clerical abuse in the United States, Chile
and Australia continues, Irish news media have been filled with articles about
how a top Vatican official allegedly tried to get Irish government officials to
support deals that would protect church records of abuse allegations and limit
the financial liability of the church.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese said Cardinal Angelo
Sodano, then the Vatican secretary of state, approached her in November 2003 about
an agreement or concordat to protect church records, and Dermot Ahern,
Ireland’s former foreign minister, said Cardinal Sodano asked him in November
2004 about the Irish government indemnifying the church against court-ordered
compensation for victims. Many of the institutions where the abuse took place
were supported by the state or subject to state inspection.

Cardinal Sodano, the now 90-year-old dean of the College of
Cardinals, has not responded to the claims, nor has the Vatican press office.

Writing Aug. 7 in the Irish Times, Marie Collins, who had
been one of the abuse survivors Pope Francis named to the Pontifical Commission
for the Protection of Minors, said that in Dublin the pope “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,” Collins
wrote. “He must commit to action.”

U.S. Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, who has spent decades
working with survivors of clerical sexual abuse, told the Irish radio RTE Aug. 13 he hoped Pope
Francis would have the courage to admit publicly that the Vatican itself was
involved in covering up abuse crimes.

“I believe that kind of a statement coming from him is
absolutely necessary because the day is long gone when people will tolerate
them saying, ‘Well, we’re sorry for the pain you suffered, for the mistakes
that were made.’ No,” he said, “it wasn’t mistakes. It was an
intentional program, an intentional, systemic program” to protect the
church above all else.

Officials chose to “sacrifice the thousands of victims
for the image and the welfare and the power of the institution,” Father
Doyle said. “The apology has to come from the top.”

A meeting with Irish survivors of abuse is not on the pope’s
official schedule, but in the past, such meetings were announced only after they
had taken place.

Irish newspapers reported Aug. 1 that Archbishop Diarmuid
Martin of Dublin said he was certain Pope Francis would speak of the abuse
scandal, but he was not sure that the pope would have time to meet with
survivors given that he would be in Ireland only 36 hours.

Collins told RTE the next day Vatican officials “are
delusional” if they believe not meeting survivors would keep the topic of
abuse out of the news while the pope is in Dublin. “Ignoring an issue is
not going to make it go away.”

What the pope “needs to do, particularly now as the
flood gates are opening around the world,” she said, is to state clearly
“what he is going to do about this crisis in the church. At the moment it
is not being addressed.”

A session on “safeguarding children and vulnerable adults”
is scheduled for the World Meeting of Families’ pastoral congress Aug. 24, the
day before the pope arrives. It will be moderated by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley
of Boston, president of the pontifical commission, and Collins is scheduled to
be one of the presenters.

The magnitude of abuse inflicted by Catholic priests,
religious brothers and women religious in Ireland is staggering.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the church in Ireland was rocked
by a series of very public revelations about sexual abuse and, particularly,
about how the abuse and allegations of it were mishandled by senior church
leaders. The abuse included thousands of cases of sexual and physical abuse in
Catholic residential schools and care facilities, including the so-called
Magdalene laundries where young women were sent for having children out of
wedlock or being suspected of sexual promiscuity.

A series of judicial reports detailed a pattern of cover-up
and a tendency to put the avoidance of scandal and the reputation of the church
ahead of the needs of those who were abused. Four Irish bishops resigned after
being criticized for their handling of abuse allegations.

One of the judicial reports, released in 2009, focused on
the Archdiocese of Dublin in the years 1975-2004. An independent Commission of
Investigation, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, looked at the handling of some
325 abuse claims in the archdiocese over that 30-year period.

The report concluded that during those years, rather than
being concerned about the victims, Catholic leaders were more interested in
“the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of
the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets.”

In 2010, then-Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the people
of Ireland and addressed survivors directly: “You have suffered grievously,
and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured.
Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you
found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you,
no one would listen.”

Pope Benedict also ordered an apostolic visitation of
Ireland’s four archdioceses, its seminaries and its religious orders and put
U.S. Archbishop Charles J. Brown, a longtime official at the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith, in charge of the nunciature in Ireland. The move
came after the previous nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was recalled in
2011 after an independent judicial report accused the Holy See of being “entirely
unhelpful” to Irish bishops trying to deal with abuse.

In July 2014, Pope Francis held his first meeting as pope
with survivors, including two from Ireland. They were accompanied by Collins,
who was then serving on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Collins resigned from the commission in March 2017, saying some Vatican offices
were blocking the implementation of recommendations made by the commission.

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Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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