When Pope Francis visits Ireland this weekend he can expect a rather less warm reception than John Paul II had on the last Papal visit to Ireland in 1979.
Then over a million people – almost a third of the country’s population at the time – welcomed John Paul II in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
Modern Ireland has since woken up to the horrors the Church had committed.
This weekend considerably fewer people are expected to attend the mass in Phoenix Park.
Knowing the truth about the Catholic Church has made Ireland a new country.
Ireland has traditionally been a Roman Catholic stronghold but decades of abuse scandals have damaged the church’s reputation and weakened its influence.
The Catholic Church’s crimes in Ireland are almost too numerous to mention: Decades of child sexual abuse; the false imprisonment of innocent women; the suspicious death and burial of hundreds of children at Tuam; the illegal adoption (and effective sale) of babies to foreign couples; the intimidation of victims; the hypocrisy of a clergy who demonised sex while running around with mistresses.
All this is well-known to Irish people and accounts for the staggering drop in mass attendance since 1979.
About a third of Irish people attend mass regularly, but it is not accurate to say that they believe in every Church teaching.
The Church’s condemnation of birth control is routinely ignored and the recent referenda to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion show the Church no longer dictates public policy.
The Pope will be protested.
Protesters will not be able to get anywhere near the Pontiff, so they’re protesting in an interesting way: by staying away.
Many Irish people have booked free tickets to the Pope’s appearance in Dublin with no intention of attending.
This is the most peaceful and most effective way they could protest.
Yet even this small act of defiance, this attempt to show the Pope, through empty spaces, that he must do better, has been met with ridicule and viciousness.
Some of those involved have received death threats, of questionable provenance.
Prominent apologists for the Church have dismissed them as ‘triggered’or ‘snowflakes’.
Were the young women who were forced to toil in the Magdalene laundries ‘snowflakes’? Are the victims of clerical abuse who still bare psychological scars just ‘triggered’by the Church’s callous inaction?
So the country has moved on? Why bother complaining about the Pope? Because of justice.
Justice requires that criminals be held accountable for their crimes. The abuses of the Church were not perpetrated by bad individuals, they were institutional.
The Magdalene Laundries; the cover up of child rape; the vicious attacks on every attempt to liberalise Irish society – the Church itself, and its hierarchy, are responsible for all of these.
And, like it or not, blame attaches to Pope Francis as well.
The Catholic Church is a unique institution. It reserves to itself supreme moral authority, and grants itself the exclusive right to forgive sins. God is a Catholic, don’t forget.
Scandal after scandal have done nothing to change the Church’s hubris. It is not humbled, it is not contrite and Pope Francis presides over a Church that is still resisting, still reflexively protecting itself and its members who committed atrocities.
Many victims of child sexual abuse have still not received any financial compensation, despite a sweetheart deal the Church cut with the Irish state.
Worse than the lack of compensation may be the continuing attitude of the Church. The Popes, Benedict XVI and Francis, have issued apologies – hollow, formulaic apologies.
Moreover, Pope Francis recent statement called on Catholics to pray and atone for the Church’s crimes. Average Catholics were victims of the Church, it is outrageous now to ask them to help the Church assuage its guilt.
Yet that is the Catholic Church’s response. They claim to be shocked and saddened, they call for healing and atonement and forgiveness. But they do nothing to change themselves.
Like a cruel parody of a bad boyfriend, the Church apologises and promises to change but never does.
When Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979 he said this to a crowd: “On my knees I beg you, turn away from the path of violence and return to the way of peace.”
He was speaking about the Troubles, the bombs and shootings, the tragic deaths from sectarian violence. But that was a different world – and a very different Ireland.
The bombings and shootings have stopped and the devoutly Catholic crowd he spoke to are no longer so devout.
The former was achieved, in part, by modern Ireland negotiating over its old national claims to Northern Ireland as part of the peace process. The latter was achieved by modern Ireland discovering the horrors the Church had committed.
Knowing the truth about the Catholic Church has made Ireland a new country. For the first time, the head of the Church will visit that new country.
Pope Francis is likely to apologise publicly, or at least call on the faithful to pray for his Church’s victims. That’s not enough. It could never be enough.
Pope Francis should recall the last papal visit and tell the people of Ireland this: “On my knees I beg you,” – but this time he should be begging for Ireland’s forgiveness.
The Pope must be protested. And the Pope must change his Church.