any Irish Catholics hope that Benedict XVI will visit them next year when Dublin hosts the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. Unconfirmed reports now suggest that the Pope is reconsidering the trip following the Irish prime minister’s broadside against the Vatican last week.
Benedict XVI could, in theory, safely abandon the trip. The Vatican has never officially confirmed the visit and the Pope’s representative in Dublin, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, has retreated to Rome after a fierce public dressing down by the Irish government. Pope Benedict might easily conclude that he is not welcome in Ireland and accept one of dozens of invitations to visit friendlier countries instead.
But if our reading of Benedict XVI is correct then the present anger at Rome will only increase his desire to visit Ireland. His trips to Turkey, France, the Czech Republic and Britain showed that he is unafraid of opposition and that his presence can turn back tides of hostility against the Church.
If the trip went ahead he would have a precious chance to show that, despite prime minister Enda Kenny’s suggestion to the contrary, he does place the welfare of children before the reputation of the Church. He might also be able to meet victims of clerical abuse and personally assure them of his determination to remove all abusers from the priesthood. Such an encounter would restore attention to the victims, who continue to live with the sickening consequences of abuse.
One of the worst aspects of the present diplomatic crisis is that it has turned abuse victims’ suffering into an “issue” batted back and forth between Dublin and Rome. The politicisation of clerical abuse was, perhaps, inevitable. But it is nevertheless deplorable, for there is much more at stake here than the reputations of the Vatican or the Irish state. The wellbeing of those who have suffered and those presently in the care of the Church and state is far more important than institutional reputations. It is difficult to see how the present antagonism addresses their needs, which would be better served by cooperation between bishops and politicians.
If Pope Benedict were to attend the International Eucharistic Congress next year he would not only be able to confront the abuse crisis in person; he would also have an opportunity to expose the living heart of Catholicism – the Eucharist – in a land that has long since turned away from it. Ireland’s wounds would not be healed overnight. But an era of recrimination might be brought to an end and a period of reconciliation might just begin.