Pope Francis Visits Ireland Amid Latest Clergy Sex Abuse Scandals

Aug 24, 2018
Originally published on August 24, 2018 10:07 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Pope Francis is arriving in Ireland this weekend for what may turn out to be one of the most important trips of his papacy. The official purpose of the visit is to attend the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families held every three years. But this latest wave of sex-abuse scandals hitting the church around the world will almost certainly be front and center. And if you are assuming that Ireland will be friendly ground for a besieged pope and his church, that is not necessarily today's Ireland. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us now from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi there.

GREENE: So this country was one of the most devoutly Catholic of Catholic countries in the entire world. I mean, it's pretty safe to say scandals have literally changed the church's standing in Ireland, right?

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. It once had more - as much authority, if not more, than the government until these shocking revelations of sex abuse. And not only - but also of widespread corporal punishment of children in church-run state schools. The Magdalene laundries, which were church-run homes for women that society had labeled as fallen, where nuns treated them almost as slaves. And then there was the forced adoption of children of unmarried mothers by Catholic agencies. That was described in the movie "Philomena."

GREENE: Right.

POGGIOLI: And then there was the discovery of a mass grave at a former church-run home with the remains of dozens of babies and young children of those unmarried mothers. These revelations have really cost the church its moral credibility. The majority of Irish people voted in favor of same-sex marriage and abortion. And as the Vatican-based Irish journalist Paddy Agnew says, Francis will be faced with Ireland's haunting, dark past.

PADDY AGNEW: I don't think someone like Francis actually even now gets it - just how much people - how angry and how disgusted - how many people feel utterly repudiated by what has happened.

GREENE: I guess on this question of whether Francis gets it, the pope is promising to address this clergy abuse issue on this visit and also visit with victims. What do we know specifically about his plans here?

POGGIOLI: Well, the only thing we know for sure is that the Vatican announced that the pope will meet privately with survivors, abuse victims. So he's signaling he'll deal with the clerical sex abuse issue at least privately. We know he will talk about it, but we don't know exactly what he will say in his public speeches. Now, the church is really being hit by simultaneous scandals from all over the place - from Chile, Australia, the United States. And the pope addressed this Monday in an unprecedented letter to all Catholics. He spoke specifically of crimes, and he vowed to prevent further cover-ups.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reporting from Rome on the pope's visit upcoming this weekend to Ireland. Sylvia, thanks a lot.

POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.