The Vatican should put Northern Catholics out of their misery about the Pope’s visit

I can’t help thinking of Pope Francis as a sort of benign Donald Trump, a figure at odds with his own establishment who delivers sound bites that inspire some and appall others, but has no very consistent policy one way or another.

Patsy McGarry ‘s view is typical, that if  the Pope  expresses contrition for the appalling – and continuing – record of abuse and cover up, the Church might enjoy a new beginning.

Two years after the photograph was taken, in November 2009, the Murphy report, which investigated the handling of clerical child sex abuse in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, laid into the reputation of the late Cardinal Connell. It found that Connell and his three predecessors as archbishops of Dublin had responded to clerical child sexual abuse over a 30-year period in the diocese with “denial, arrogance and cover-up,

Under the circumstances it’s a wonder that he’s planning to visit Ireland at all.

Although the Pope can hardly avoid contrition, even he and still more, the Vatican bureaucracy, are still in denial over  the depth of the problem. It has been trenchantly analysed under a Vatican boycott by that dissident  Catholic insider the former president Mary McAleese, extending beyond the acts of abuse to a refusal to recognise women for whom and what they are. She doesn’t miss and hit the wall.

The Catholic Church was “at a very important crossroads.. Either it will become a large and largely irrelevant cult or sect, or it will do what Christ intended, flood the world with the capacity for healing and for love,” she said.

It was a choice which would “be made, ironically, by our hierarchy” because of “an old imperial system of clerical elitist governance” conferred on them.

As regards Pope Francis, she said, “The hopes that I had for him and about him and about the church that he might help us to create, dwindled into disappointment.

On the latest abuse revelations in the Dromore  diocese which has just compelled the resignation of the local bishop …..

Fr Finnegan had been “president of one of the most prestigious Catholic boys schools in Northern Ireland and . . . seems to have been able to continue his appalling abuse of children untrammelled”, she said.

There was “all sorts of talk about places where he [the pope]” should go when he visits Ireland. “But, in terms of the pastoral needs in Ireland, he needs to go to Newry.

Why the continuing mystery about him coming North? Or is there no mystery, it’s just that the Irish hierarchy  don’t  want to admit failure?  There’s something demeaning  about the pleading by northern Catholics – even by bishops –  that has going on in the Irish News for months, even years, without the Vatican or the legate in Dublin having the decency to  give them a straight answer with five months to go.  My old colleague Martin O’Brien has offered a ripe old excuse.

Martin O’Brien, a former editor of The Irish News, said the absence of a functioning Stormont executive was a factor in the decision for the Pope not to travel north.

Recent clerical sex abuse allegations against deceased priest Fr Malachy Finegan may also have been considered, he added.

Ah now there Martin may have a point. But the Pope will face anti-abuse, anti-misogynist demos wherever he goes in Ireland. Why leave out the North where a visit would have unique significance?

A last word for the moment from Mary McAleese.

Explaining why she remained a Catholic in Rome earlier this month, despite everything, Mary McAleese said she did so because she chose to be “part of an institution that has no equal on the planet in terms of its outreach to the poor, the dispossessed, to the marginalised, part of an institution [that can be] the hands of God’s work in the world.

“No NGO does what that Catholic Church does through ordinary people. They’re the people who inspire me, it’s their work that drives me on and gives me hope for the future,” she said. She spoke for many Irish Catholics.

 

 

 

 

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London