The Pope calling those involved in abuse and coverup “caca”- excrement – will be remembered. But will it be significant?


In a statement, the representatives from the Survivors of Mother and Baby Homes group said Francis condemned corruption and cover up within the Church as “caca”, an Italian and Spanish word for human excrement.

The statement said that after the pope used the word, his translator explained that it meant “literally filth as one sees in a toilet.”

A Vatican spokesman had no comment on the details of what was said in the meeting. A Vatican official said he would not be surprised that the pope had used the word.

What  form will waste disposal  take when the Pope returns to the Vatican? It’s not the first time the word has been applied in Irish history  Remember  Seamus a caca who ran away from the Boyne?

And yet as the New York Times reports...

His efforts, wrapped in the pomp and celebrity of a two-day visit, left some of his Irish audience cold.

“Usually, when someone comes to visit, you get to know them better,” wrote Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times. “How can someone have such a warm and human touch on one hand and be so terribly out of touch on the other?

More from O’Toole..

Francis is not a pompous man, but pomp and ceremony come with the job. If it’s your job to be driven down O’Connell Street in a transparent vehicle bestowing blessings on all and sundry, it is not easy to be what Francis surely is: a decent man struggling to articulate the “shame, pain and outrage” he says he feels for his church’s systematic covering-up of child abuse. The crowds may be modest and the atmosphere low key. But the papacy can’t quite shake off its heritage as the successor to the Roman empire and even Francis can’t entirely avoid seeming like an emperor on tour to a far-flung province.

If his visit were not so bafflingly short and he had taken the time to do what he does best – spend time with people who are marginalised and suffering – he might really have made a difference. He might have revivified the sense of Christianity as a radical option for the poor as opposed to a form of institutional power. But this visit feels too much like a ceremonial procession with a pastoral purpose added in as an afterthought for that to be possible.

And on the other hand, for all his obvious sympathy with suffering, Francis still failed to rise to the obvious need to embody a church that is genuinely shocked at its own deep moral failings. It was a truly woeful idea for Francis to seek to provide reassurance by suggesting as the gold standard of contrition the open letter his predecessor Pope Benedict sent to Irish Catholics in 2010: “His frank and decisive intervention continues to serve as an incentive for the efforts of the Church’s leadership both to remedy past mistakes and to adopt stringent norms meant to ensure that they do not happen again.”

Radical break

It is hard to understand how Francis imagined that stressing the continuity of the church’s response to child abuse was a good idea when a radical break with the past is so obviously necessary. If Benedict’s response to the crisis was “frank and decisive”, how come the hidden truths are continuing to emerge? How come no independent observers, or indeed most of the Irish bishops believe that Benedict’s actions were even vaguely adequate, let alone decisive?

The ostensible reason for the brevity of the visit  was the intention to provide the centrepiece for  the World Meeting of Families, carefully choreographed to be a celebration of traditional values.  There was surely an implied challenge here to an Ireland – and indeed a Catholic world- in transition.   If that was the intent, it has clearly failed. Even here, the Pope’s gentle championing of family values and repeated  injunctions to the young to heed the advice of their elders seemed out of kilter in an Ireland which has embraced same sex marriage and abortion. While his reservations were  obvious, he relied on bromides and sentimentality. He didn’t dare to take on the new Ireland or even search for a modus viviendi with it.

This may turn  out to  as great a failure as the disastrous handling of the abuse scandals, as it  cuts equally to the heart of an organisation  still  dominated  by an elite that is elderly, avowedly celibate and  over-centralised.  Mass reconciliation with  the Roman Catholic Church if it happens at all,  can only evolve  if  people are accepted on their own terms and not according to harsh rules  like those for example which  deny baptism to the children of same sex couples.  In Dublin the Pope praised the Capucin Fathers for  providing shelter to  the displaced  and  “not asking too many questions.” He should apply  the same criteria to the wider community.

Meanwhile the immediate  challenges to the Pope to go further continue to mount.


Pope Francis has begged for God’s forgiveness for the “open wound” of clerical abuse in Ireland as he called for “firm and decisive” action to secure “truth and justice”.

He made the comments as he addressed 45,000 people at the Marian Shrine in Knock ahead of leading the Angelus prayer.

Abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman said that while the Pope has again acknowledged the harm caused by abuse there still was no mention of the cover-up of clerical abuse.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr O’Gorman said it was a shame that he had not spoken about the Vatican’s responsibility for implementing and directing this cover up.

Elsewhere, a former Papal Nuncio to the US has called on the Pope to resign, saying he was aware in 2013 about abuse allegations against a senior US Cardinal.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano claims in an 11-page letter that he told the Pope about serious allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Cardinal McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, resigned last month over claims he sexually abused seminary students and an altar boy.

It would be as well not to underestimate the difficulties of full disclosure. The accused have their rights too. So far though there seems to have been no discussion between the  Church and the national jurisdictions on how to handle the problem. The only hint we got comes from the Vatican, as disclosed by former President Mary McAleese earlier this month. And it was wholly negative.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms McAleese has revealed what she described as “one of the most devastating moments in my presidency”.

It occurred during a State visit to Italy when she had a private meeting with then Vatican secretary of state Angelo Sodano.

“He indicated that he would like, and the Vatican would like, an agreement with Ireland, a concordat with Ireland. I asked him why and it was very clear it was because he wanted to protect Vatican and diocesan archives. I have to say that I immediately said the conversation had to stop.”

Has the Vatican’s position really shifted since 2003?   in 1870  when he lost the Papal States to  the forces of a united Italy, Pius IX called himself ” the prisoner in the Vatican”.  In spite of his total access to the trend of worldwide  opinion, is Pope Francis just as much a prisoner today?

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