Despite the fact that I had no interest in making a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis during his whistle-stop visit to our neighbouring County Mayo, I did have the telly on, because I do believe I was witnessing a piece of history. I must say that our lovely neighbours at Knock did themselves and the rest of the country proud. Well done to each and every single one of you. Comhghairdeas libh!
I will admit though, much to my darling atheist hubby’s concern, as I was dipping in and out of the live Knock coverage, out of the blue, I suddenly burst into tears – as, once the official greetings were over, I saw Pope Francis walk towards the waiting crowd and instantly make a beeline for a darling little boy who was sitting in a wheelchair.
I don’t know what came over me, maybe it’s menopause, but, that gentle action alone, along with reports that the CEO of the Catholic Church broke into Spanish and labelled those who cover up abuse as “caca” – which the very polite translator interpreted for us as “filth you would see in the toilet” – kind of served as make or break moments for me. And, yeah, he’s right, they are pieces of s**t, but not only those who cover up abuse, those who perpetrate it are impacted with excrement too!
However, maybe my minor emotional meltdown was born out of memories of when, as a young girl, I sang at the Galway youth mass with my folk group for Pope John Paul 11’s visit. By coincidence, this group once included Tony Walsh, that piece of scum we now know as the convicted paedophile priest; described in the Murphy Report as someone who is ‘always going to be dangerous,’ and who ‘could not be let near schools, children, confession, etc’.
Or perhaps it was my darling dad’s phone call telling me he was holding his Pope John Paul 11 commemorative medal given to him by Aer Lingus when he was part of the elite crew tasked with maintaining the 1979 Papal aircraft. Either way, the occasion got to me; and I now genuinely hope Francis is the man to draw that line, introduce reform and win back this country’s faith in the ‘institution’ of the Church. While I believe His Holiness has the power, I’d question if he has the grit? You see, we’re a different Ireland now; a resilient Ireland; an Ireland no longer afraid to speak out and challenge the Church; and speak out we did last weekend; telling Francis his expressions of regret, welcome though they are, will never remove the torment experienced by abuse survivors, nor will they fix the physical, psychological and spiritual damage perpetrated by his peers.
And while I’m aware we cannot hold one man responsible for the sins of the Church, I’m hoping this Bishop of Rome, who spoke to Ireland with a softness and an uncharacteristic vulgarity when empathising with survivors of clerical sex abuse, and who happily posed for a selfie with a young girl, will be the one to turn Ireland, and all of her generations, back towards her faith.