LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s top bishop said the people will want “more” than an “expression of sorrow” about clerical sexual abuse when Pope Francis visits the country next week.
In a series of interviews with British media, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said Francis needs to address the abuse crisis, which has affected the Church in Ireland and around the world.
Francis will be in Ireland Aug. 25-26 for the World Meeting of Families, a Vatican-sponsored event that takes place every three years.
“I would like to think that the Pope will meet with survivors of abuse but will also address this issue in some way during his presence among us,” Martin told the BBC.
“I’m not sure what his words will be and I’m not sure that a simple apology is what survivors of abuse want. They themselves are on record in recent days as saying they want action. They say they want to know that the Church accepts that abuse within the Church was systemic, that it was facilitated and that this will happen no more,” he said.
Francis is not expected to get the same exuberant welcome that was received by Pope St. John Paul II when he visited the island in 1979. At that time, more than 90 percent of the population claimed to attend Mass weekly. Now, almost half of those under 30 don’t even describe themselves as Catholic.
Revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy – as well as the often-horrible conditions in Church-run care facilities – has destroyed public confidence in the Church.
The issue has been brought back to the fore by news from across the Atlantic, where the one-two punch of the resignation of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals after he was credibly accused of abuse and the publication of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report highlighted over 1,000 cases of abused children prompted the Vatican to issue a statement on Thursday declaring that abuse victims “should know that the Pope is on their side.”
Speaking in a separate interview to the Guardian, Martin said the “awful, heinous wound” of sex abuse is “a systemic issue” for the whole Church, explaining “the whole culture of our Church wrongly facilitated abuse.”
“Pope Francis can offer something, speaking on behalf of the Church universal, that could be extremely helpful for all of us – survivors and those of us doing our best to deal with the legacy, the awful hurt and trauma that this issue has left,” the archbishop told the British newspaper.
“Sometimes people ask me: ‘Do you think the Church can draw a line under the issue?’ I really don’t think we can. When you meet survivors of abuse, they never draw a line under it. It’s with them for the rest of their lives – the horrific betrayal of trust, the sins and the crimes of the Church, our shameful efforts at avoiding scandal which in the end created more scandal … It’s a shadow that’s there all the time,” Martin said.