Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered a firm challenge to Pope Francis and the Catholic Church Saturday in Dublin Castle, where the two met with authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps. Pope Francis visits the country after decades of revelations of abuse of women and children at the hands of clergy. Hundreds died from apparent malnutrition, unwed mothers lived in servitude, and many babies were adopted against their mothers' will.
"Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions and clerical child abuse are stains on our state, our society, and also the Church," Varadkar said. "People kept in dark corners behind closed doors. Cries for help that went unheard. Wounds are still open and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors."
The Taoiseach, or prime minister, also mentioned the recent Pennsylvania abuse report that revealed that more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over the course of seven decades — and the Church failed to act.
"There can only be zero tolerance for those who abuse innocent children or who facilitate that abuse," Varadkar said. "We must now ensure that from words flow actions. ... Above all, Holy Father, we ask to you to listen to the victims and survivors."
Pope Francis, who is expected to meet with abuse survivors later on Saturday, issued what many are calling a tepid response to a massive crisis, pointing to the work done by his predecessor, Pope Benedict.
He said, in part:
I am very conscious of the circumstances of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters — I think especially of those women and children who in the past have endured particularly difficult situations. With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education ... The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests, and others — adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments.
My predecessor, Pope Benedict, spared no words in recognizing both the gravity of the situation and in demanding that “truly evangelical, just, and effective” measures be taken in response to this betrayal of trust. His frank and decisive intervention continues to serve as an incentive for the efforts of the church’s leadership both to remedy past mistakes and to adopt stringent norms meant to ensure that they do not happen again …
Each child is in fact a precious gift of God, to be cherished, encouraged to develop his or her gifts, and guided to spiritual maturity and human flourishing. The church in Ireland, past and present, has played a role in promoting the welfare of children that cannot be obscured.
It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast light on the failings of many, will serve to emphasize the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. In this regard, all of us are aware of how urgent it is to provide our young people with wise guidance and sound values on their journey to maturity ...
Pope Francis is scheduled to speak at Croke Park Saturday evening in front of a throng of more than 80,000 pilgrims at a music festival, and is scheduled to take part in a Sunday service at a shrine in Knock, Ireland.