On the return flight to Rome, the Pope himself outlined a thoughtful evaluation of the journey to Ireland — a brief visit that was expected to be fraught with difficulties. At the end of the lengthy press conference, as always brimming with questions, Francis indeed wished to add that he had found “a deeply rooted and strong faith” in the country. And precisely drawing on this, the people of Ireland are undergoing the difficult process of healing from wounds still festering from the scandals caused, over the course of several decades, by the abuse of minors: real crimes, within the Church.
The Pontiff wished to say this to the journalists who had accompanied him “because this is what I saw, what I heard, and learned in these two days”. Among other things, shortly after his arrival in Dublin, a painful and touching meeting which lasted over an hour and a half with several “survivors”. This gave rise to the Pope’s proposal to ask forgiveness, “but for concrete things”, during the concluding Mass; “and they accepted and helped me to carry out” the proposal, Pope Bergoglio added. It is a painful process, “but with the consolation of being able to help clarify” what had happened, Francis stated in the Penitential Act before almost half a million faithful at the beginning of the celebration at Phoenix Park, in the wind and rain.
Inevitably, the different aspects of abuse — that of power, of conscience, as well as sexual abuse on the part of members of the Church — were the subject of debate at the press conference during which the Pope also responded to a new instance of internal opposition. “I will not say a single word on this”, he said, because the memo “speaks for itself, and you are capable enough as journalists to draw your own conclusions”. Thus demonstrating confidence in the “professional maturity” of the journalists, along the lines the Church initiated at the time of the Council and later developed by both sides in the ensuing decades, amid both shadows and light.
This trust was again apparent in Pope Bergoglio’s words in response to another question on “how the media can help”, when the Pontiff cited a case that had involved a priest in Granada, Fr Román Martínez Velázquez, who, along with other priests from the Andalusian diocese, had been subjected to an unsubstantiated accusation of abuse: for three whole years subjected to a veritable journalistic, and consequently public, accusation; but then all were absolved by both the civil and ecclesial justice systems. So, “your work is very sensitive”, because “you have to speak about things but always with this legal presumption of innocence” and not of guilt, Francis concluded.
The Pope’s response to the issue of welcoming migrants was likewise thoughtful and careful not to enter even minimally into the political sphere: an ancient moral principle which however, should be employed today with reasonableness and prudence, keeping in mind the indispensable integration of new arrivals and the countless horrors, in the countries of origin and those of arrival, of human trafficking, the disgrace of our societies. Against the backdrop of a papal journey which centred around the celebration of families, but above all the faith of the Irish people.
St. Peter’s Square
Dec. 8, 2019
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