For the Embattled Catholic Church, Sorry Is the Hardest Word

By William J. Furney

Priests of the Roman Catholic church have caused misery, torment and destruction all over the world, leading to lives upturned, ruined and lost. These “men of God” who were supposed to protect their flock and guide their souls instead engaged in the ultimate betrayal and cast them onto a tortuous path to hell.

With new revelations that hundreds of “predator priests” sexually abused thousands of children in Pennsylvania over a period of decades, and that the Catholic Church — and the Vatican — covered it all up, this is one very sick institution.

It’s one that’s obsessed with sex yet denies it to its clergy, many of whom can’t deal with the prison sentence of celibacy and go on to have liaisons or abuse those they think will not speak out. Denying natural urges is entirely unnatural, and dangerous, and if there’s to be any redemption at all, priests must be allowed to marry — and same-sex marriages must be permitted among priests. It’s hardly a secret that the Catholic Church is full of men — priests — who are gay and who were driven to their jobs not out out some kind of divine calling but because they saw it as a safe haven in societies that had frowned on such sexuality.

Ireland was one of them, but not any more. Whereas once the tiny country on the western edge of Europe was firmly ruled by the Catholic church, and abortion, divorce and contraception were illegal, today all that is allowed, including gay marriage, and the Republic is a shining beacon of tolerance and has, as prime minister Leo Varadkar said, changed its laws to reflect modernity.

Several years ago Ireland became the first country in the world to allow same-sex marriage by public vote and Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant, is openly gay — a fact that decades ago would have been unthinkable and scandalous but today doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. Earlier this year, the Irish people voted in a referendum to relax the country’s strict abortion law and parliament is working on revising the contentious legislation.

And so as Pope Francis touched down in Dublin last weekend aboard the ludicrously branded “Shepherd One” he was stepping into a country that had transformed itself to the core. It is a place that is now unrecognisable — by scenes on the streets to the opinions of its people — from the previous visit of a pontiff, when now-Saint John Paul II visited 39 years ago, and the country went wild.

These days there’s not so much fervour in Ireland about the Catholic Church. Indeed, following events from abroad on live TV over the weekend, it seemed to me that crowds in many places the current pope visited were much more sparse than before. That’s what decades of priestly child sex abuse will do, and it’s estimated there are thousands of victims in Ireland — one of the hardest-hit countries by this apparently unstoppable scandal that has decimated church attendance and for which this still immensely powerful religious organisation is unwilling to utter the S-word.

Certainly the pope gave a nod to the grave — and criminal — sins of his priests while he was in Ireland and “begged for forgiveness”. But the 81-year-old Argentine, who looks increasingly frail and was not steady on his feet on his Ireland trip to mark the triannual World Meeting of Families, did not say sorry.

“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community,” the pope said.

“I myself share those sentiments.”

It’s not much use going on Twitter and issuing a bland statement about priestly child sex abuse and hoping all these many wrongs will be put to right.

And how strange that on his flight back to Rome on Sunday night, the pontiff refused to answer reporters’ questions about a bishop’s bombshell account that Pope Francis was responsible for a “cover-up” of child sex abuse in America.

“I won’t say a word,” he said.

Jesus would be appalled.

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