LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A bishop in Ireland said the Church needs “to acknowledge the dark aspects of our Church’s history that have come to light especially in recent decades.”
Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said the visit of Pope Francis on Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families will be a “crossroads moment” for the Irish Church.
The bishop, preaching his homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption, said the Church must acknowledge the “good and bad” of its past, including “a clericalism that ended up confusing power and ministry, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and religious that did untold life-long damage to the victims, the violent and repressive treatment by Church representatives of young people sent to the State’s reformatory institutions, the dark experience of vulnerable women in places meant to be residences of refuge.”
Leahy said the Church must prepare for the papal visit by “seeking forgiveness for the sins of the past.”
“We know that not every bishop or priest or sister or brother or lay person engaged in Church circles was bad. And we know that not everyone was good,” the Limerick bishop said.
“Those of us of a certain age, however, know many, many who were very kind, caring and helpful. But to acknowledge with gratitude the good can never eclipse recognition of sin, criminality and evil. In some way, everyone in the Church bears the shame of these darks aspects of our history. Few of us can throw stones as if we ourselves were not somehow associated,” he added.
Once one of the most Catholic nations in Europe, public confidence in the Irish Church has been shattered after revelations of the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious over the past decades.
The latest European Social Survey, released earlier this year, shows only 54 percent of people between the ages of 16-29 identify as Catholic, and fewer than 25 percent claim to attend Mass weekly.
On May 25, over two-thirds of Irish voters chose to repeal Ireland’s pro-life amendment in the country’s constitution, with polls showing 87 percent of voters aged 18-24 casting their ballot to legalize abortion; three years ago, 62 percent of the voters chose to legalize same-sex marriage.
“The groupthink that says to be Catholic is out of date seems sometimes overwhelming,” Leahy said, warning Ireland could forget its Christian heritage.
“The Church of tomorrow will be very different. To be Catholic isn’t simply about Mass on Sunday or certain moral rules or pious practices. Unfortunately, too often, and perhaps we ourselves are partly to blame, our Catholic faith has been reduced to this caricature,” the bishop said.
He told young people at the Mass that their “difficulty with finding a connection with the Church isn’t their fault.”
“We need young people to help Church-attending members to find the way forward on how to reconnect youth cultures and Church,” Leahy said.
“Might this visit of Pope Francis be a moment when young people might look again at what the Church really has to offer? We need you because you are part of our access to what God is saying to the Church today. We need you to help us find the ways towards the future that God has marked out for us all.”