Pope should be compelled to address clerical abuse during Irish visit
CLERICAL sexual abuse, secularisation and the role of women in the Church are themes with particular resonances in Ireland that Pope Francis should address during his visit to the World Meeting of Families next weekend, according to a leading Vatican commentator.
John L Allen Jr edits the US-based Catholic news site Crux and is regarded as one of the most authoritative commentators on the Church.
Mr Allen is in Northern Ireland this week with Crux reporters to gauge the mood of Catholics ahead of the Pope's visit, particularly in light of his 'no-show' north of the border.
"Most of them are disappointed," he said.
"They've said that in general, it would have been great if the Pope came, but that in particular it would have been great if he came now because we are in a moment where the energy generated by the peace process seems to have stalled."
A widely experienced veteran of papal trips, Mr Allen said that "every culture in the world thinks that when the Pope comes he is bringing a message specifically for them".
"In general, while there will be a few messages for the local place, for the most part what you get are the universal themes of the papacy," he said.
"In that sense I would expect the people of Ireland to hear many of the same things that people in other parts of the world have already heard from Francis.
"He'll talk about the need for national reconciliation and dialogue - that has a particular meaning in Ireland, but it's not the first time he's said it.
"He'll undoubtedly talk about the importance of preserving the Christian identity of this place; again, that has a particular meaning here, but it's a universal theme.
"And he'll talk about concern for the poor, the vulnerable, those at the margins of society; a concern for creation and the environment will come up. They are all well recognised Pope Francis issues."
I would use the word 'unthinkable', that a Pope would come to Ireland and not publicly address sexual abuse
It was also important to remember that although this trip is taking place in Ireland, the reason Francis is coming is for the World Meeting of Families, "which means his primary audience is not Ireland but the world".
"That said, there are some issues in the specific circumstances in Ireland that the Pope will be compelled to address," sad Mr Allen.
First should be clerical sex abuse. Mr Allen said he would be "very surprised" if a meeting between the Pope and abuse survivors did not take place.
"I would use the word 'unthinkable', that a Pope would come to Ireland and not publicly address sexual abuse," he said.
The second issue is secularism and "what it means to try to preserve the faith in an increasingly secular world" and the question of "what kind of relationship the Church ought to have with that secular world, whether of antagonism or cooperation".
Francis is definitely a man of the "latter option", said Mr Allen. "In part, the drama of this trip is how successful will he be in promoting that vision."
"The third issue that he cannot avoid is the question of women," he said. With prominent figures such as Mary McAleese highly critical of the Church, "it would be very surprising if the Pope were to come here and not have something to say about the promotion of women in Catholic life".
- John L Allen Jr will be speaking in St Brigid's Parish Centre in Belfast at 7.30pm today; tomorrow, he will speak in St Mary's College in Derry at 7.30pm. Both events are free and all are welcome.