Tuesday 23 July 2019

Welcome to a new Ireland - Varadkar calls for ‘action’ after words of condemnation

  • Varadkar: 'Modern Ireland still a country with faith and values'
  • State ready for ‘new relationship’ with church
  • Pope says outrage on abuse justified
Pope Francis shakes hands with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle. Photo: WMOF2018/Maxwell Photography via Getty Images
Pope Francis shakes hands with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle. Photo: WMOF2018/Maxwell Photography via Getty Images
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called for church actions to follow words of condemnation of clerical child sexual abuse, in a powerful address on the visit of Pope Francis, in which Mr Varadkar also outlined how “modern Ireland” was now increasingly diverse, more socially inclusive but ready to build a “new relationship” between church and State.

In a memorable televised speech to a rapt audience of government ministers, officials, former politicians, church leaders, other dignitaries and diverse members of society at Dublin Castle, Mr Varadkar further acknowledged the failures of “the State and wider society” on the issue of sexual abuse and declared: “There can only be zero tolerance for those who abuse innocent children or who facilitate that abuse.”

Having listened attentively to what amounted to a clarion call to further action by the Vatican, Pope Francis acknowledged the “grave scandal” caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection.

 “The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — adequately to address the repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments,” he said.

However, he did not outline any concrete changes in either laws or transparency, not did he address the question of Vatican complicity in the sexual abuse cases.

Afterwards, representatives of survivors of clerical sexual abuse described the Pope’s speech at Dublin Castle as a “missed opportunity”.

CAVALCADE: Pope Francis braved the weather to greet the
people of Ireland in an open-topped Pope-mobile in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
CAVALCADE: Pope Francis braved the weather to greet the people of Ireland in an open-topped Pope-mobile in Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Francis also used his speech to make reference to the abortion referendum here. He questioned whether a “materialistic ‘throwaway culture’” had made people “increasingly indifferent to the poor and to the most defenceless members of our human family, including the unborn, deprived of the very right to life”.

However, Mr Varadkar, in his address, told of an Ireland of the 21st Century that was a “very different place today than it was in the past”.

He said that people had voted in parliament and by referendum to modernise laws — “understanding that marriages do not always work, that women should make their own decisions, and that families come in many forms including those headed by a grandparent, lone parent or same-sex parents or parents who are divorced”.

Mr Varadkar’s partner, Matt Barrett, also attended the event at Dublin Castle, where he was seated a row behind former Taoisigh, Bertie Ahern, John Bruton and Brian Cowen. After the formal speeches had concluded, Mr Varadkar introduced the Pope to his partner and they also shook hands.

Pope Francis arrived at Dublin Airport shortly after 10.26am, where he was met by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, his wife Ruth and their three children, as well as church officials and other dignitaries.

From there he was driven, in a humble Skoda Rapid motor car, to Aras an Uachtarain where he was welcomed by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone was also at the Phoenix Park, where she was seen to speak to the Pope at length and, it was confirmed afterwards, in Italian.

She declined to disclose what she had said to him, but at Dublin Castle later, Pope Francis deviated from his prepared address to state her words “still echo in my heart” and he thanked her for what she had said. Vatican sources were last night quoted as saying Ms Zappone had referred Tuam mother and baby home scandal.

In an address that left unsaid no current or legacy issue which has affected church and State relations here through the decades, Mr Varadkar spoke of a "history of sorrow and shame".

He said: "In place of Christian charity, forgiveness and compassion, far too often there was judgment, severity and cruelty, in particular, towards women and children and those on the margins.

"Magdalene Laundries, Mother and Baby Homes, industrial schools, illegal adoptions and clerical child abuse are stains on our State, our society and also the Catholic Church. Wounds are still open and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors."

Addressing the Pope directly, he said: "Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the world."

The Taoiseach also referred to another controversy which emerged shortly before the Pope's visit to attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin - in which bishops and other leaders of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania in the US covered up child sexual abuse by hundreds of priests over a period of 70 years. Mr Varadkar said: "In recent weeks, we have all listened to heart-breaking stories from Pennsylvania of brutal crimes perpetrated by people within the Catholic Church, and then obscured to protect the institution at the expense of innocent victims. It is a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland.

"There can only be zero tolerance for those who abuse innocent children or who facilitate that abuse.

"We must now ensure that from words flow actions.

"Above all, Holy Father, I ask to you to listen to the victims."

However, in his address, the Taoiseach also praised the Church for its work in the social sphere in the decades immediately after Independence.

"The Catholic Church filled that gap to the benefit of many generations of our people. We remain profoundly grateful for that contribution," he said.

He also referred to his Government's "struggle" with a housing shortage and homelessness and praised Catholic organisations and people inspired by their Catholic faith for filling a "gap" in providing services.

Pope Francis later attended the Capuchin homeless shelter close to Dublin's Smithfield in the north inner city.

Mr Varadkar said that "modern Ireland" was still a country "with faith and spirit and values" and said he believed the time had now come for a new relationship between Church and State in Ireland - "a new covenant for the 21st Century".

Sunday Independent

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