It’s best for Pope Benedict to stay away form Ireland, for now

 
Image by Caty Bartholomew

At the time of writing on a bright spring morning, the word on the wires is that the Pope is considering coming to Ireland later this year for an upcoming Eucharistic Congress. He has been invited by the Irish hierarchy.

 

He is a very wise old man, and I'm sure that at the end of the day he will decide not to come.  The time is not opportune at all.

How times change! The huge and emotive Eucharistic Congress of the last century was one of the most iconic events in the entire history of the new Irish nation.

It was garnished by the golden voice of Count John McCormack, it demonstrated how bonded church and state were at the time, about every citizen in the land dropped joyfully to their knees in the mighty rally in the Phoenix Park and at the other events.  Old people talked about it all their lives.

Nothing came close to that Congress as a spiritually enriching and defining event until the last Pope's visit to Ireland over 30 years ago now.  I covered that trip and there was no doubt but that Ireland joyously and wholeheartedly welcomed a Pontiff who radiated hope, serenity and even a genuine holiness.

He trailed a cloak of peace behind him in what were troubled political times, and warmly energized both his church and the island. Millions turned out to welcome him.

The days he spent in Ireland were very special. Everybody was wearing a smile. Statistically even the national crime rate dropped to almost zero.

But that was before the Catholic Church effectively imploded horrifically in our faces. I can recall, even as a hardened hack, being touched to the marrow by the performances of Bishop Eamon Casey and the showbiz priest, the late Father Michael Cleary, at the celebrations in Galway and Knock especially.

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Cruelly, both of them were to be shortly touched by the first of the far worse scandals that have since wracked the church to its foundations.

Few of us then knew what a pedophile was.  None but the hundreds of victims knew of the horror of the widespread child abuse by pedophile priests across the land.

Even worse was the fact that we knew nothing then of the absolutely vile cover-up operations which the church leaders were operating to protect their organization's reputation.

Casey and Cleary were very petty offenders by comparison with some of the dreadful deviants whose crimes we learned about much later.

It is indicative of the new atmosphere between church and our state that Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny could know clearly there would be very widespread support nationally for his government's recent decision to close down our embassy in the

Vatican on, they said, cost grounds.

There have been few complaints about that since. Who would have thought such a decision could ever have been taken in our lifetimes by any taoiseach? And clearly with the implicit support and approval of the overwhelming majority of the people.

It has to be acknowledged that it took great political courage for a novice taoiseach and practicing Catholic to take the action he did. But he acted against a background of an under-estimated backlash against the church which dominated political action in this Republic for so long and so powerfully.

He acted against a backdrop of sharply falling church attendance, of continuing evidence of scandals, especially relating to child abuse in the past, and the clinching evidence of clerical vocations, once a torrent, now slowing down to a trickle.

Already there is a shortage of working priests in a country which was for so long capable of sending regiments of young missionaries all across the world.

One has to sympathize with the overwhelming majority of good priests in Ireland who are trying to do good work against communal suspicion and distrust today. Too many bad apples must make their lives very hard indeed.

So a wise Pope will not willingly define the currently low status of his church by a visit to Ireland or a Eucharistic Congress which will only be a mere shadow of the last Congress and that triumphant visit more recently by Pope John Paul.   It is some measure maybe of the lack of real understanding of the situation by the hierarchy that they even invite him to come here.

A sharper definition of the situation was provided by the government itself when it responded to a media query by saying that yes, of course, if the Pope did come to Ireland he would be offered all the protocol of a state welcome.

It is also clear, however, that there is little chance of the Vatican embassy being reinstated anytime soon. The old mould is well and truly broken.  I think we are all the better of that.

I understand that the once charismatic and hugely popular Bishop Eamon Casey is now at the time of his life when he is spending periods in nursing homes.  I have always argued that he was savagely over-punished by his peers when he fell from grace.

He has effectively been silenced down all the years since. Speak about forgiveness!

If Bishop Casey sinned he did so with a mature woman.  There was no vulnerable altar boy or little schoolgirl involved as in so many of the other horrifying episodes. I can never forget that.

In synopsis, we would all be better off if the Pope stayed away.

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