DUBLIN — While an estimated 300,000 people gathered to celebrate Pope Francis’s closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, across town a smaller group of papal critics held their own rally to show support for victims of clerical and institutional abuse in the Catholic Church.
Donna Dent, who stood for nearly two hours hoisting a sign honoring 796 children whose remains were found in a septic tank at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, said she came to the rally “to stand with everyone, any victims” of the Church’s sexual, physical or institutional abuse.
“I think the pope has unbelievable gall not to be on his knees apologizing. I don’t think he should have said Mass today,” Dent told Crux, saying the pope, in her view, should have boycotted his own liturgy until all victims of the Church’s abuses receive full compensation.
“I would never forgive the Church for what they’ve done,” she said, adding that she thinks the pope has failed to act sufficiently in addressing the issue. “I’m a bit pissed off at anyone who went to see him,” she added, saying they are turning “a blind eye to everything the Church has done.”
Dent spoke of the women forced to work in Ireland’s Church-run Magdalene Laundries and the children stripped from their unwed mothers and given up for illegal adoptions. Dent said she has a 16-year-son, “and the notion that someone would take him from me when I was a young girl, it’s unbearable. So I’m here to say, go home.”
Dent was one of roughly 2,500 people, according to local police, who participated in a rally at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance held at the same time Francis was celebrating the concluding Mass for the Aug. 22-26 World Meeting of Families.
The rally, which featured songs from local bands, testimonies and a silent march to the last government-owned building that once served as a Magdalene Laundry facility, was organized by Colm O’Gorman, Dublin Executive Director of Amnesty International and founder of the One in Four charity organization dedicated to supporting victims of abuse.
In comments to Crux, O’Gorman said that while the pope had been outspoken on Church abuses since his arrival to Ireland, bringing the issue up in almost every speech, the pontiff’s words fell short of the force needed to be taken seriously on the issue.
“The pope has made the usual statements,” he said. While Francis has spoken about crime, accountability and cover-up, “he hasn’t put them together in a sentence that suggests the Vatican is prepared to be held to account.”
In his role as head of the institutional Church, Francis, O’Gorman said, needs to “own” the cover-up, even if he isn’t directly responsible.
Ironically, at the same time O’Gorman was making his statements, Francis tossed out his prepared homily for Mass and spoke almost exclusively about abuse and cover-up on the part of Church hierarchy, saying he wanted to put “in front of God’s mercy these crimes and to ask forgiveness for them.”
“We apologize for the children who were estranged from their mothers and for all those times in which it was said to many single mothers who tried to look for their children who had been estranged from them, or to the children who were looking for their mothers, that ‘It was a mortal sin.’ This is not a mortal sin, it is the fourth commandment! We ask for forgiveness,” he said.
These acts were carried out by “qualified members of the Church,” he said, adding that “some members of the hierarchy didn’t own up to these painful situations and kept silent. We ask for forgiveness.”
Yet Garrett O’Keeffe, who carried a blue sign saying “truth, justice, love,” said “it’s just not right” that people are celebrating the pope’s visit when little action has been taken on the abuse front.
Francis, he said, should not have come.
“If he crawled out the airport into town it wouldn’t have been enough. He needs to release the files, he needs to pay what he owes, he needs to truly repent and have mandatory reporting worldwide of various abuses,” he said.
Though he has no personal interest in the Church, O’Keeffe said he would like to see change, but believes “they’re out of time, they’re out of business. The only place they’re growing is in the third world where people are still ridden with superstition, but in most of the western world they’re on the back foot, which is good.”
In comments to Crux, Mora Butterly, who attended Catholic school in the 1950s and was present at the rally, said she was “beaten black and blue on my fingers and I stammered for over a year because I wrote with my left hand, which is the hand of the devil in the Catholic Church.”
Butterly said she was “uncoordinated” for a time as a result, and that she saw “a lot going on” around her in terms of how other children were treated, who were “beaten” by the sisters.
In her view, Butterly said, the papal visit is a waste of money, and funds spent on papal events could have been used as compensation for victims. Francis, she said, is “dealing with a vast, corrupt institution…in some ways I’m half sorry for the man, but I’m not really that sorry.”
“I just believe the Church is so corrupt, every institution is corrupt. You tell me what institution isn’t corrupt? The Church is as corrupt as any other, and we all know that,” she said, adding that while she doesn’t entirely know what to make of the crisis, she hopes some things will change, “but I doubt it.”