LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Pope Francis became “visibly upset” when the Archbishop of Dublin told him about the hundreds of children found buried at a Catholic care home in Ireland.
Between 700 and 800 children were discovered buried in unmarked graves at a home for unwed mothers run by the Bon Secours Sisters in Tuam, Ireland. The children died in a period dating from 1925 to 1961.
The day the news came out in 2017, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin met with the pontiff.
“He said to me ‘how are things in Ireland?’ And I said there’s a terrible story …emerging about children’s bodies being found. And afterwards a number of people came to me and said, ‘what did you say to the pope? He was visibly upset, and he kept looking after you when you went away.’ He has that sensitivity to things.”
Martin told the story in a wide-ranging Easter Sunday interview with RTÉ Radio One, Ireland’s primary public radio station.
Francis will be visiting Ireland Aug. 25-26 when Dublin hosts the World Meeting of Families, which last took place in 2015 in Philadelphia.
When asked whom the pope should meet, Martin said, “The victims of clerical abuse, certainly. I think there’s no way the pope can’t address that.”
The archbishop also said he would like Francis to meet members of Ireland’s Traveller community, since “they have the highest child mortality rates in Ireland as well as large numbers in prison.”
(Irish Travellers are an itinerant ethnic group with its own traditions and language. In Ireland, they have suffered similar discrimination to gypsy communities in mainland Europe.)
Martin admitted the short length of the visit may limit the opportunities of the pope to meet with everyone he wants.
“I said this, even to the pope himself last week, that I’m worried that some of the protocol issues may take longer than meeting with the poor,” he told the radio program.
“I believe that when the pope comes, his great ability is to do things with gestures, particularly with people who are marginalized,” the archbishop continued. “If the institutional, the protocol or the celebratory things take over then we’ve lost. We have to see what we can fit in within two days.”
When asked if a visit to Northern Ireland could happen, Martin did not entirely exclude the possibility, but added “the pope is coming for the World Meeting of Families. If they were to organize an event around the family, that might make it easier. Not a political event.”
Martin said Francis is “a complex figure, not all smiles. He’s determined, he knows when people are not being true to him, not being loyal to him. He’s nobody’s fool. When he wants to do something, he’ll do it…He’s a free man. He’s in nobody’s pocket,” he added.
When asked about former Irish President Mary McAleese, who called the Catholic Church an “empire of misogyny” at a woman’s event in Rome, Martin said misogyny is “obviously present” in the Church.
“There is a danger in an all-male presbyterate that misogynism can enter. You can have a men’s club and I think all of us have to examine our consciences to see where we are on this,” he said. “How do we change it is the question. Misogynism is a sign of human immaturity and that is a worry.”
The archbishop said the problem with misogynist priests is that they’ve either never had healthy relations with women or they don’t understand they themselves are not mature.
“Misogyny is really about men feeling they are in charge, men feeling they have particular rights… where does it begin in their lives, does it begin in family?” Martin asked.
The pope’s visit is coming as the influence of the once-dominant Catholic Church is at its lowest point in Ireland, mostly due to a series of abuse scandals aimed at Catholic clergy and institutions.
A referendum on same-sex marriage was held in 2015, in which 62 percent of the voters backed changing the constitution to allow the practice.
In May, the people go to the polls in another referendum on whether or not to keep the constitutional safeguards for the unborn – polls currently show the majority will vote to change the constitution.
Martin said young people in Ireland have been “horrendously scandalized by what happened” with clerical abuse, and “lost confidence in the Church … [finding] the cover -up and hypocrisy very hard to digest.”
The archbishop pondered about why some of the abuse allegations from years ago are only coming out now: “I don’t know that people covered up, or didn’t talk, or were afraid to talk or didn’t want to talk, but as I say let the truth come out. If a Church investigation, if people don’t have confidence in that, get external people to verify.”
Martin said when he became head of the Dublin archdiocese, he felt “anger” about the abuse.
“It was anger at what happened to people; not just those who were abused, but their parents,” he said.
“I can remember one woman coming to me and saying the priest came down and said he wanted the boy to cut the grass and then [the boy] kept saying ‘I’m not going to the priest, I’m not going to the priest.’ She told him ‘if you go down, Mr. Smith will give you a shilling and you’ll be done like a light, go down.’ She put out her hand to me and said, ‘I handed my child over’ and she lived with that grief herself for years.”
Martin said stories like this one must be heard.
“The truth will make you free even if it’s unpleasant,” the archbishop said.