Amid a historic visit to Ireland, Pope Francis has continued to field calls for his resignation over the clerical abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church. The Pontiff’s historic visit was, by all accounts, highly disappointing. Hundreds of thousands were expected to line the streets of Dublin, and officials were anticipating some 600,000 to turn out for Sunday Mass in Phoenix Park yesterday.
The reality, however, was very different.
Some half a million pilgrims were expected to hear the Pope say Mass on Sunday, but the real figures were reported to be far lower – Journal.ie reported that just 130,000 were in attendance at the rainy event. Francis spent much of his time apologizing for the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups that have dogged the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and have resulted in a hemorrhaging of congregants.
Far from the jubilant scenes of Pope John Paul’s 1979 visit, when 2.7 million people gathered to catch a glimpse of the Pontiff, the crowds were scarce as Francis rode through the streets of Dublin Saturday.
— Katherine Nolan (@DoChara) August 25, 2018
Comparative images shared on Twitter showed the vast difference in turnout.
The Pope in Phoenix Park, Dublin … 1979 vs 2018. pic.twitter.com/53h5yQc6CD
— John Hamill (@JohnHamill151) August 26, 2018
The Pope did attempt to directly address the issues of abuse during Sunday’s mass.
“We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church,” he said, as reported by the Guardian.
“In a special way, we ask pardon for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions run by males or female religious and by other members of the church, and we ask for forgiveness for those cases of manual work that so many young women and men were subjected to. We ask for forgiveness.”
“We ask forgiveness for the times that, as a church, we did not show the survivors of whatever kind of abuse the compassion and the seeking of justice and truth through concrete actions.”
However, just before he left Ireland, the Pope was once again questioned as to whether or not Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò had personally informed him in 2013 of disgraced Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick’s history of abuse.
“I will not say a single word about this,” he said sharply. “I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the sufficient journalistic ability to make your conclusions. It’s an act of trust.”
The accusations were raised in a 7,000 word letter attack on Francis’ allies in the Vatican, penned by Carlo Maria Viganò, a former top Vatican diplomat in the United States. The letter was published by several outlets on Sunday morning as the Pope prepared to conduct the huge mass.
Viganò pulled no punches in his criticism of Pope Francis and his alleged cover-up of widespread clerical abuse.
“He knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator,” the Archbishop wrote, as reported by the New York Times.
“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church,” he wrote, “he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”
The lack of enthusiasm for the Pope might have been compounded by the numerous abuse scandals and a the activism of a vast number of anti-Catholic protesters (who apparently bought up thousands of tickets to the events, despite having no intention of attending.) However, the lackluster Papal visit signals something of a more widespread shifting of the tide regarding Irish attitudes toward religion.
Data from a 2016 census indicated a 74 percent increase in young people saying they have “no religion.” This is a country which, just a few years ago, was a world leader in protecting the rights of the unborn, spurred by a zealous faith. But in the spring of this year, that all changed. Amid the deafeningly silent witness of the disgraced Catholic Church, the population voted unanimously to liberalize the nation’s abortion laws. The Church has lost its saltiness, and, in the opinion of many, it is time this was admitted so that a period of rebuilding and healing can commence.
Ireland is changing, and fast. The questions remain: can the fledgling Catholic Church bring itself to fully apologize? Can it adequately adapt and, ultimately, will it be able to survive?