Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Pope's historic visit is a chance for Church to start doing much more to heal the wounds of clerical abuse scandal

Editor's Viewpoint

The visit of Pope Francis this weekend is truly historic. So, too, was the longer visit in 1979 by Pope John Paul II.

Since then Ireland has become much more secular.

Trust in the Catholic Church has diminished, church attendance has decreased sharply, there has been a huge drop in ordinations and fewer clergy, while divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage have been approved by referenda. It is easy to cherry-pick statistics, but religion still plays an important part in people's lives.

When Pope Francis steps onto Irish soil today it will be a hugely significant moment for tens of thousands of faithful Catholics, many of whom have travelled from this side of the border.

The pontiff is arriving in the midst of a barrage of criticism about the failure of the Church to deal with the scandal of clerical sex abuse.

This has almost overshadowed the pastoral theme of the World Meeting of Families, but it is also worth noting that the discussions and events covered a wide range of issues in a thoughtfully argued and respectful way.

Fair-minded observers would have to agree that this World Meeting was anything but an echo chamber for the Catholic hierarchy.

The criticism over clerical sex abuse will not go away, but it is important to recognise that such criticism - no matter how valid - is often expressed in coarse and offensive terms. Discussion is healthy, but it should be civilised and respectful.

The main focus now will be on Pope Francis' addresses this weekend, when Catholics will be looking for not just words alone, but action to stamp out the evil of clerical sex abuse within the body of the Church itself.

We also hope that Pope Francis will direct some wise words to the people of Northern Ireland, where much healing is needed.

That healing would be helped further by a papal visit here in the near future. In the meantime, we must do all we can to make our province a place fit to visit.

Belfast Telegraph

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