July 9, 2018
By Emer O'Toole
Ireland’s political leaders are calling protests against Pope Francis’s visit ‘petty’. Have they forgotten the decades of abuse?
In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the Republic of Ireland, and approximately 2.7 million people – 79% of the population – came out to honour him. At the time, contraception, divorce, and homosexuality were illegal, and John Paul II was a god.
On 25 August, when Pope Francis becomes the first pontiff to travel to Ireland in 39 years, he will arrive on the shores of a very different island.
Throughout the 1990s, abuse scandals rocked the Irish Catholic establishment and hastened the process of secularisation. Since then, progressive constitutional and legal change has been slow but consistent, signalling rejection of the church’s moral authority. In 1993 homosexuality was decriminalised; in 1995, a referendum to legalise divorce passed by the slimmest of margins; in 2015, the country voted overwhelmingly to legalise gay marriage; and in June, 66% of the electorate voted to legalise abortion.
The separation of church and state in Ireland is far from complete. For example, the church is still involved in running 90% of state-funded primary schools. It is deeply enmeshed in our medical system. We are still wrestling with the scars of decades of abuse, implemented by the church and facilitated by the state. We are still finding children’s bodies in unmarked mass graves.