Irish bishops and abuse survivors respond to pope’s letter

PopeCNA Pope Francis. | CNA

Several Irish bishops, as well as victims of clerical sexual abuse in the country, have offered responses to a letter Pope Francis' issued Monday on sexual abuse in the Church. The pope's letter condemned abuse, and encouraged the entire Church to pray and fast. 

Pope Francis is due to visit Ireland this coming weekend, Aug. 25-26, for the World Meeting of Families. The trip will mark the first papal visit to the country since Pope St. John Paul II, who came to Ireland in 1979. In the years between the two visits, the Church in Ireland has been implicated in numerous scandals concerning the abuse of children and the mistreatment of unwed mothers and their children.

An Irish child sexual abuse survivors' group, One in Four, gave a critical reception to Pope Francis' letter, saying they were "disappointed and frustrated" by it, and that the letter contained "meaningless apologies." One in Four also said that the letter did not contain any "concrete" steps in how to successfully combat the issue of clerical abuse.

Maeve Lewis, the director of One in Four, said that Francis' visit to Ireland was "very distressing to many survivors, retriggering old emotions of shame, humiliation, despair and anger." Lewis said that survivors were owed a "clear commitment" from the Church that it "finally intends to deal with clerical child sexual abuse."

Bishop Alan McGuckian, who leads the Irish diocese of Raphoe, sympathized with some of the group's criticisms, but said he believes Pope Francis has been satisfactory in combating abuse.

In a Tuesday appearance on the RTE television network's "Morning Ireland" program, McGuckian said that he wished the pope's letter had been firmer and more specific.

"I too felt when I read the letter that I wanted something more concrete," said McGuckian.

In June, Pope Francis accepted the resignations of five Chilean bishops accused of covering up abuse, which McGuckian said he thinks is "clearly a very good sign."

Bishop Brendan Leahy of the Diocese of Limerick acknowledged that Pope Francis' letter would meet with criticism, saying that "there are absolutely no words good enough to adequately apologize for the abuse" done by clergy and the failure to report these cases. But the bishop stressed its release was still important.  

"It is essential that we acknowledge the darkness of what has happened. The Pope has spoken before of his deep regret, but I think it was important that he issued his letter."

"Straightaway the opening line is striking, 'if one member suffers, all suffer'. It's a clarion call. There can be no let-up in our resolve and compunction to fight a reality that led to what the Pope calls 'atrocities'."

Holy See Press Director Greg Burke confirmed on Tuesday that Pope Francis would likely meet with abuse survivors during his visit to Ireland. Initially, this was not on the itinerary.

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