People back efforts to see justice done, survivors tell Pope

People back efforts to see justice done, survivors tell Pope Pope Francis in the Phoenix Park.

People are fully behind Pope Francis’ efforts to tackle abuse and concealment of abuse in the Church, according to a Belfast priest who was sexually assaulted by a priest while a seminarian and who was one of eight survivors of clerical and institutional abuse who met the Pope on Saturday evening.

Describing the encounter as “intense and emotional”, Fr Paddy McCafferty of Belfast’s Corpus Christi parish said the Pope was “obviously affected by what he heard”, and that he “responded unequivocally – expressing his shame, taking full responsibility as the visible earthly head of the Church, saying clearly ‘I am responsible’, asking for forgiveness”.

Fr McCafferty, writing on his Facebook page, said the Pontiff expressed his distress about corruption in the Church and his determination to tackle it, despite efforts to undermine and thwart his work.

“We told him that the people are fully behind him in his efforts,” wrote Fr McCafferty. “We told him that justice needs to be seen to be done and that even the most highly ranking of prelates must not be exempt from just penalties, when they cover up the crime of abuse, or deal with it incompetently.”

Other survivors present in the 90-minute meeting included Marie Collins, a founding member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Fr Joe McDonald of St Matthew’s Parish in Ballyfermot, Dublin, Paul Jude Redmond and Clodagh Malone, both of whom were born in Mother and Baby homes, Bernadette Fahy, who lived as a child in the Goldenbridge Orphanage, Councillor Damien O’Farrell, who was abused by a Christian Brother when 12 years old, and a victim – who asked not to be named –  of abuse by the late Fr Tony Walsh.

The Pope, according to Fr McCafferty, was “kind and gentle” in the meeting, and was “visibly distressed” by the stories he heard. “All of us agreed (only the eight survivors, the Pope and his interpreter were present for the hour and a half meeting in the Apostolic Nunciature – no one else) that the Pope was truly sincere and appeared resolved, to continue the work of healing, purification and reform, without fear or favour,” he said.

Ahead of the papal visit, Fr McCafferty had called for the Pope to cancel the trip, saying that if he came he would be appearing alongside men who had serious questions to answer about abuse and cover-up.

“I say that as his faithful son, who loves him and who would defend him with my life,” he had said. “I ask the Pope not to come on account of the betrayal, the destruction of trust and entire loss of credibility.”