Francis’s packed August schedule includes a daunting trip to Ireland
Pope Francis is back to work this coming week, after a month of “staycation” in the Casa Santa Marta. His schedule was reduced, and his General Audiences were suspended for the month of July. The Pope was not, however, given over entirely to rest and relaxation.
Major scandals were on his desk in July, the biggest of which by far was the ongoing McCarrick Affair. For the first time since 1927, the Pope accepted the resignation of a member of the College of Cardinals. Last time it was the French Jesuit, Louis Billot, and the catalyst of the resignation was a contretemps over the Frenchman’s political activities in support of the radical reactionary group, Action Française.
That said, Billot had repeatedly asked to be allowed to resign: he was never comfortable in his red hat, and had principled reasons apart from his interest in the French monarchist-integralist movement. This time, the circumstances are rather different.
McCarrick is accused of sexual offences against many victims – some of them minors and others seminarians and priests – over a period of nearly 50 years, during which he rose to the pinnacle of power and prestige in the Church.
Whatever the outcome of any canonical or civil investigations, the story has already refocussed the world’s attention onto the abuse crisis.
The story is all the more unsettling because McCarrick was chosen by the US bishops to implement and be the public face of their child protection reforms when the abuse crisis in the US Church first became a scandal and international news story in 2002. However bad you think it is in the Church these days, it’s worse.
It would not be surprising if the McCarrick Affair, and the worldwide crisis it indicates, dominated Pope Francis’s thoughts this summer and for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps paradoxically, that’s precisely why he needs his rest – and if his reduced schedule in July offered him some small respite from the daily grind, Francis was nevertheless very much at work. In the midst of burgeoning scandal and crisis, it’s tough sometimes to remember that the man also has to fulfil the ordinary duties of a pope, which are innumerable.
He started July with a pair of major engagements: one with participants in an international conference to mark the third anniversary of his encyclical Laudato Si’, on the duty to exercise responsible stewardship of the created order; another in the southern Italian city of Bari, to pray with religious leaders for peace in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Francis has kept up a steady stream of private meetings with churchmen and other groups of visitors. He even celebrated the wedding of a Swiss Guardsman in the church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians in the Vatican. He also held a consistory to move forward on some causes of saints.
That consistory generated a good bit of buzz in some circles when it was announced. One holy person – Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, a young fellow from Italy’s Abruzzo region, who lived a life of heroic patience in the face of great suffering and adversity, and died at age 19 – was added to the list of those to be canonized on October 14th. That means it will take place during the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, alongsie the canonisations of Oscar Romero and Paul VI. (There’s a neat wrinkle to that part of the story, by the way: it was Paul VI who beatified Nunzio in 1963.)
Pope Francis heads back to work – mostly – with a full slate in front of him, including travel.
On August 25-26, the Pope will be in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families. One great challenge of his visit will be to shore up support for a Church in profound crisis. Everyone expects him to face a tough two days.
The Church in Ireland is devastated. The once proudly, fiercely Catholic people of Ireland are reeling and bitterly angry over the years of systematic abuse committed by priests and religious, and the coverup of that abuse by Church leaders. They’ve stopped going to Mass. They voted to amend their constitution to allow same-sex marriage in 2015 – even while marrige itself declines. (The most recent census report shows more than double the number of Irish couples cohabiting than reported having similar arrangements in the previous one.) Just this year, the Irish people voted to remove a constitutional protection on children in the womb.
It would be hard – but fair – to say that the Irish people are in rebellion against the Faith – though it is not hard to understand the roots of that rebellion.
At the end of September, the Pope heads to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. That trip deserves a series of its own. Suffice it to say that it will be delicate, complicated, politically fraught, and charged with ecumenical significance. If you’d asked me ten years ago, which of the two trips was going to be the more difficult, I’d have told you it would be this one – eyes closed, hands down.
In the meantime, recess – such as it has been – is over.