After Pennsylvania, What Pope Francis Should Say in Ireland

The New Yorker

August 22, 2018

By James Carroll

Pope Francis will make a fate-laden journey to Ireland this weekend. On Sunday, when he addresses a throng of Catholics in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, he will recall the last papal visit to Ireland, that of John Paul II, in 1979. But another papal address of that year should also come to mind. In June of 1979, John Paul II spoke to more than a million Poles in a field outside of Krakow and set in motion events that changed history. But that was then. Nowhere is the difference between what the Polish Pope confronted and what the Argentinian Pope now faces greater than in Ireland, which is ground zero of the collapse of Roman Catholic moral authority. Polish Catholicism was ascendant as the Cold War was winding down; Irish Catholicism is buckling. The hospitable Irish will receive Francis warmly, but an undercurrent of heartbreak and anger will also greet him. What can he possibly say?

Just two weeks ago, a Pennsylvania grand jury found that, over the course of seventy years, three hundred priests abused a thousand young victims—and likely many more who have not yet been identified—with bishops resolutely protecting the perpetrators rather than the children. “This is the murder of a soul,” one victim testified. The Vatican responded to the revelations in Pennsylvania with an expression of “shame and sorrow,” words that Francis repeated on Monday, in an unprecedented letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, though neither statement moved beyond perfunctory generalities of regret. But in Ireland, the priest-abuse scandal—in 2009, it was revealed that bishops had colluded with the police in order to protect predators—rocked the nation as, perhaps, nowhere else.

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