- Historic visit now in global media spotlight
- Up to 750,000 people to attend pontiff events
THE Papal visit to Ireland is expected to set the global agenda on how the Church tackles the legacy of child sex abuse.
Ireland has now found itself caught in the eye of the Vatican hurricane with abuse scandals having erupted in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The world is focused on how the Pontiff will address the cover-up of heinous crimes within the Church while on a visit to a staunchly Catholic country.
Vatican sources said that the two-day trip has dominated every agenda and the eyes of the world are on Ireland ahead of the highly charged visit.
Ireland is dwarfed in scale by the traditional Catholic countries of France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and Brazil. So Ireland, despite often punching above its size, rarely makes a seismic impact on the global Church radar. But despite this, the country has become the focus of both religious affairs commentators and Church leaders worldwide this week.
Pope Francis travels to Ireland for just over 36 hours and one overnight stay for the World Meeting Of Families (WMOF) – but his visit has seen media accreditation requests from 1,200 journalists from more than 30 countries.
It is as much a question of timing as the fact Ireland was far ahead of the curve in terms of how the clerical abuse scandals first erupted. Hundreds of prosecutions have now been taken over clerical abuse here.
Multiple hard-hitting reports including the Cloyne Report were released about how the Church failed to properly protect children and deal with abuses. Some of the strictest child protection measures in the world are now enforced by the Church in Ireland as a consequence of the shocking revelations.
How the Argentine-born Pontiff deals with the lasting legacy of clerical abuse in Ireland is quite likely to form a template for how the Church deals with similar controversies in other countries such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and UK.
Pope Francis clearly understands what is at stake.
He has not only referred to the legacy of abuse in his pre-visit Irish message, but he will privately meet with a group of survivors while in Dublin. The Pope will also pray for victims in St Mary’s ProCathedral.
The Vatican has insisted that the meeting in Dublin between the Pope and Irish survivors of clerical abuse does have vital meaning.
The insistence came as senior Church officials refused to publicly criticise Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for his intervention in the controversy over how the Church dealt with abuse cases over recent decades.
Mr Varadkar, in an eve-ofPapal-visit comment, said that the Church must now admit its sins and face up to historic abuse issues.
The Taoiseach said he welcomed comments from Pope Francis about the controversy – but he said the first thing he will tell the Pontiff, after welcoming him to Ireland, is that actions must follow words from the Church.
“We don’t know it (the true scale of the abuse scandal) from the Church admitting its own sins,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I think that would be a very good place to start.”
The Vatican has insisted that the Dublin meeting offered by Pope Francis to a number of abuse survivors was very significant. The meeting is private, and not listed on the two-day Papal agenda.
However, abuse survivors have been informed they are free to comment about the meeting after it concludes.
A Vatican spokesperson dismissed suggestions that such meetings had been effectively meaningless.
“(Such meetings) do make a difference,” the spokesman insisted. “We have to see that the problems (involved) are horrendous.”
They said that Ireland was a very special case given the context of what had happened.
The Vatican spokesperson acknowledged that it was a very difficult issue for everyone involved. “There is no consolation in this,” they said.
While the Vatican has carefully steered clear of controversy over Mr Varadkar’s comments, some within the Irish Church are deeply unhappy at how the comments have fuelled the negative tone over only Ireland’s second Papal visit in history. “It was unnecessary,” one source said.
Others within the Church in Ireland privately expressed deep annoyance at the comments. They warned that the comments threaten to further fuel negativity and overshadow the benefits for Ireland of hosting the prestigious World Meeting of Families (WMOF).
Campaigner for abuse survivor rights, Tom Cronin, warned that it should be remembered the State was also responsible for some of the horrific abuse and exploitation of youngsters in Ireland through the support of industrial schools.
The timing of major clerical abuse investigations in the US and Australia has unavoidably turned an international focus on Ireland’s Papal visit.
How Pope Francis addresses the issue in Dublin and Knock over his brief visit could now have implications far beyond Irish shores for decades to come.