Facebook reminder from 2008 popped up in my husband’s newsfeed last week. It was a photo from World Youth Day in Sydney. He sent me the link with a note, “Hard to believe that this was just eight years ago.”
Just eight years ago, Australia’s Cardinal George Pell walked the streets of Sydney unencumbered, basking in the glow of World Youth Day and the adulation of its 250,000 young attendees. The royal commission into institutional responses to sexual abuse hadn’t taken place. The Irish government hadn’t yet released its official report into sexual abuse in the Catholic church in that country. No one had seen the movie Spotlight. Most people assumed the isolated reports of clerical sexual abuse of children were just that – isolated.
Eight years later, and another round of World Youth Day celebrations has just finished, held this time in Poland. Around 2.5 million young people from across the globe attended. Pope Francis used the five-day celebration to speak to young Catholics about issues as diverse as terrorism, poverty, and technology. He also spoke about faith and God’s call to them. He was – as you might expect for such a popular pope – very well received.
Then Francis left World Youth Day, got on a plane home and spent his time on the flight talking to journalists about police investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse against Pell.
This juxtaposition is jarring, to say the least.
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