Pope Francis to visit a changed Ireland

Rachael Martin

Credit: Deirdre Kelly The pope might find and Ireland that resembles little the last pope left behind.

Pope Francis is scheduled to come to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August 2018. However, he is coming to a country that is very different to the ‘catholic Ireland’ that the last Pope visited.

Secularism has swept across the country in the past decade, making it questionable if the Pope will receive a warm welcome from the millennial generation.

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin said the visit will cost around €20 million. This will be the first visit from a Pope since 1979, when John Paul II drew a crowd of one million faithful followers to the Phoenix Park.

However, the uncovering of scandals in the Catholic Church has cast a dark shadow on Catholic Ireland.

In October 2005 ‘The Ferns Report’ revealed more than 100 allegations of sexual abuse on young boys and girls over 40 years in the Wexford diocese of Ferns. The Ryan Report published in May 2009 catalogued four decades of child abuse cover-ups by the Catholic Church and the Government. The Murphy report published in November 2009 revealed a catalogue of paedophilia and subsequent cover-ups as the Gardaí failed to press charges against the ‘untouchable’ clergy.

During the twentieth century, Irish church and state went hand in hand. Ireland was known as the ‘land of saints and scholars’ when in reality, a regime of oppression was often enforced.

Women were dropped at gates of Magdalene laundries, ashamed, abandoned and left to wash away their ‘sins’. Babies were bought, sold and secretly buried. Recently it was revealed that the remains of babies ranging from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 year were discovered in sewage containment system at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Symphysiotomies, now considered torture by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, were carried out on women. These operations were sanctioned by the church so that they could bear as many children as possible, often leaving them incontinent and with chronic pain for the rest of their lives.

Due to the marriage bar, women had to give up their job if they worked in the public sector, and contraception only became freely available to over-18s without a prescription in 1985. On the eve of the vote to legalise this, the Dublin Archbishop claimed the legislation would send Ireland down a “slippery slope of moral degradation.”

The horrific history of catholic Ireland has only recently come to light, and has left a lasting impression on those who were affected, and those who know about what happened .

Although the visit may trigger reminders of church scandals, it is important to remember that the church is changing, and to note that Pope Francis is unlike other popes who have gone before.

Pope Francis refuses to ride in a bullet-proof Mercedes, and rides the bus instead. He refers to himself as “Bishop of Rome” rather than as “Supreme Pontiff’. He is the first pope to use the word “gay” rather than “homosexuals” or “those suffering from same-sex attraction”. He also refused to live in the Apostolic Palace, instead living in a guest home and dining in the cafeteria.

What has happened cannot be forgotten, but perhaps Ireland can learn from its past.