Saturday 16 February 2019

Pope Francis' speech was 'disgraceful' and contained 'extraordinary deflection', victims claim

Protesters demonstrate on the Ha'Penny Bridge during the visit of Pope Francis in Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Protesters demonstrate on the Ha'Penny Bridge during the visit of Pope Francis in Dublin, Ireland, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Laura Lynott, Kevin Doyle and Esther McCarthy

Clerical abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman has described the speech by Pope Francis at Dublin Castle as an “incredible missed opportunity”.

Speaking after he attended the civic reception for the Pontiff, Mr Gorman said: “It is staggering to me that in 2018 we are still asking a Pope to take responsibility, not for his own actions necessarily but for the actions of the institution that he heads.

Protesters line the streets in Dublin
Protesters line the streets in Dublin

“It’s mind-boggling to me that to ask the Pope to tell the damn truth is a radical thing to suggest.”

Asked whether he had hoped the Pope would go further in his comments, the head of Amnesty in Ireland said he should have looked to talk to the people of Ireland.

“It’s a huge shame. Frankly it’s rather disgraceful. This is about criminality at the highest level within an institution,” Mr O'Gorman said.

He added: “The Vatican has directed, implemented and instituted a cover of the crimes of clergy, including the rape and abuse of children, of women and vulnerable adults across the world.

“When he talks about his sadness and grief at the harm that I and others suffered, what does that mean? I was thought as a toddler by my parents that if I wanted to apologise for something, the first thing I had to do was take responsibility for my own actions.”

Protesters have gathered along Dame Street in the city centre and more are expected to line the streets as Pope Francis makes his way throughout the city later today.

Pope Francis as he arrives at Dublin Airport. Photo: MAXWELLS
Pope Francis as he arrives at Dublin Airport. Photo: MAXWELLS

One protester, from Pennsylvania, where the most recent scandal on mass child sexual abuse, has cast a shadow on this Papal visit, was in attendance, alongside Irish and Northern Irish victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The woman said she had also been a victim as a child though her case had run out of time in the legal system.

Pope Francis as he arrives at Dublin Airport, at the start of his visit to Ireland: WMOF2018/Maxwell Photography/PA Wire
Pope Francis as he arrives at Dublin Airport, at the start of his visit to Ireland: WMOF2018/Maxwell Photography/PA Wire

"So much has been covered up by bishops in the Catholic Church," the woman said. "I was so small when I was abused, not by a member of the Church but it was covered up by the Church.

"Everyone knew, my mother, the teachers in school, everyone but that was back in the 70s and everyone was so afraid of the Church.

"It was important for me and other victims, to be here today, to use Pope Francis' visit as a stage for protest, to force change in the  Church - that bishops must no longer be allowed to cover up child abuse.

"Ireland has come so far, with the 'Repeal' movement and LGBTI marriage rights and now in Ireland we are going to send a message to the Church together."

President Michael D Higgins, Pope Francis and Mrs. Sabina Higgins as he signs the visitors book at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Maxwells
President Michael D Higgins, Pope Francis and Mrs. Sabina Higgins as he signs the visitors book at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Maxwells

Richard Duffy, who brandished a sign bearing the words “arrest the pope” said that the Pope is "guilty of crimes and should be held to account".

“Abuse and the cover-up of crimes is ongoing. There are plenty of people all the way up who deserve to be arrested,” he said, adding that he believed that anyone in the Church from the position of Cardinal up has been involved in some form of cover-up.

He added that he respected and admired the core Catholic message of love and compassion but added: “It’s those who believe in it who are most betrayed by the Vatican.”

Minerva Viga said that this visit brought back painful memories for her and other victims of abuse. As a child in Mexico, she said she attended a local Catholic school where the nuns would feed her  -  but one priest beat her frequently. She said she was there in the hope it would help protect other children.

“I’m here because I want to ask the Pope for justice for victims of abuse,” she said. “I’m here because I suffered. I attended a Catholic school in Mexico and the priest used to hit me almost every day. I’m looking for justice for the children who were abused. Today is such a hard day.”

Leila Said Gutowski, an American woman living in Ireland, said she felt “safer” demonstrating here following recent events in Ireland including the repealing of the Eight Amendment and added: “We are all watching Ireland.” She said she was abused as a child by a lay-teacher under the Catholic system in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the mid 1970s and has spent years calling for justice.

“I’m calling for zero tolerance and the arrests of those involved in colluding,” she said. “We’re here to speak for those who are suffering.”

Part of a group carrying a banner bearing childrens’ shoes, Irishman Christian DeVelera spoke of his “absolute despair” at the Pope’s visit given revelations of clerical abuse in this country going back many years. He said he was also there to seek justice for those hurt and abused at mother and baby homes and other Catholic institutions.

Earlier today, President Michael D Higgins told Pope Francis of the anger felt by those in Ireland who were abused as children by Catholic clerics.

A spokesman for Mr Higgins said that during the meeting at Aras an Uachtarain, Mr Higgins raised with the pope the "immense suffering and hurt caused by child sex abuse perpetrated by some within the Catholic Church".

In a statement issued after the meeting, the spokesman said Mr Higgins also told Pope Francis of the "anger which had been conveyed to him at what was perceived to be the impunity enjoyed by those who had the responsibility of bringing such abuses for action by the appropriate authorities and have not done so".

"The President welcomed the honest and forthright language that His Holiness used when addressing the issue in his recent Letter to the People of God," the spokesman for the President said.

"He conveyed to Pope Francis the widely-held view that all would benefit from a set of actions that gave the necessary assurances to all citizens past, present and future, of all faiths and none."

While the streets around Dublin Castle are not currently busy, large crowds are expected to gather later as the Pope makes his trip throughout the city in his Pope Mobile at 4:15pm.

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