LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said Sunday that the upcoming visit by Pope Francis for an international Catholic family gathering “has brought with it an examination of the failings of the Irish Church.”
On Wednesday, Francis announced he would visit the Irish capital from Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families, the Vatican-sponsored event which brings thousands of families together every three years.
It will be the first papal trip to Ireland since Pope St. John Paul II’s triumphal visit in 1979.
Since then, a series of cases of clerical sexual abuse and other scandals has weakened the moral authority of the once-dominant Catholic Church in the country.
In recent years, Ireland legalized gay marriage in a referendum, and is scheduled to hold another overturning a constitutional ban on abortion in May.
During his Palm Sunday Mass, Martin said the pope is coming to Ireland to strengthen and comfort families.
“He comes to challenge us all to be with those families that struggle and fail,” the archbishop said. “He comes to challenge those families that believe that success in an empty bourgeois life-style or in a narrow piety of certainty makes them somehow the better class of family.”
He added that homelessness, domestic violence, infidelity, unemployment and lack of social support, and forced migration “all degrade families.”
“Families are places where in the face of such struggle they still bring light and warmth, even when all the odds are against them. Families are places where love is learned and where faith takes roots,” Martin said. “Wounded and struggling families are places where God’s love still prevails. The ideal family is not the one of the fashion magazines, but the great families are the families to which each of us is deeply indebted.”
The Dublin archbishop then touched on the struggles the Church in Ireland has experienced as it continues to recover from the ongoing revelations of abuse and the coverup of abuse.
Most recently, Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore announced his resignation on March 1, after it emerged that he concelebrated a parish anniversary Mass in 2000 with a priest he knew had stepped down after being sent for treatment following complaints of abuse. (Francis accepted his resignation on March 26.)
“Even when the members and the leadership in the Church fail, Jesus’ salvation remains there to challenge us and to judge us. When the Church becomes caught up in its own structures or in the ways of the world, it fails Jesus,” Martin said in his Palm Sunday homily.
“The Church regains its soul not then by repeated words of regret and apology. These are just human words and human sentiments,” he continued.
“The Church truly apologizes when it returns to the truth and the love of Jesus himself. When we fail in our following of the demanding teaching of Jesus, we too can find healing only when we set aside our own pride and self-interest and allow ourselves to be changed by the power of Jesus’ love,” Martin continued.
The archbishop said renewal and reform in the Church are not just about structural changes.
“Structural changes will remain fruitless if they remain simply human words. Reform of the Church requires something more radical. It requires moving beyond human categories. It requires that we too seek to understand how the challenge of Jesus will always be one that rejects human power,” he said.
Martin concluded his remarks by saying the Church of Jesus must be a Church “that is countercultural to many dimensions of today’s society.”
“It is not in the sense of polemic discussions and self-focused triumphalism, but a community which recognizes in Jesus, the one who made himself a slave so that we could live,” he said.