Who won and lost in Pope’s trip to Ireland

Pope Francis greeted by thousands in Dublin

There is a general consensus that in the present Irish circumstances and in the shadows of the clerical sexual abuse crises, Pope Francis’s  Irish visit was more of a success than envisaged.

In that context, the general consensus was that Francis mostly exceeded expectations. His crowds were light but genuinely enthusiastic. Overall, the “Francis magic” played in Ireland too, especially his iconic visit on Saturday to a Dublin homeless care facility run by the Capuchin Franciscans. People watched the pontiff project humility and genuine pleasure in greeting society’s outcasts. They also watched him deliver an impromptu rite of repentance on Sunday after meeting abuse victims the night before.

However, one can’t call the trip a complete success, because it was dogged by the letter of a former papal ambassador who accused Francis of covering up scandals surrounding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and by the fact that he failed to deliver the concrete action plan on accountability for bishops that many Irish survivors were demanding.

In the end, therefore, the trip went better than one might have reasonably thought, but not quite as well as one might have dreamed. Aside from the pope himself, there seemed to be two clear winners.

One is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who will get much of the credit for hosting a successful World Meeting of Families and papal trip, and who used the occasion to position himself anew as a change agent and reformer on the clerical sexual abuse scandals.

The other clear winner is Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who’s openly gay and who used his welcoming speech for Francis on Saturday to lay out the basis of a “new covenant between church and state for the 21st century.” Varadkar lamented that: “In place of Christian charity forgiveness and compassion far too often there was judgement, severity, and cruelty on the part of the Church. In particular towards women and children and those on the margins.”

Those wounds are still open, and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for the victims and survivors,” Varadkar said. “Holy Father, we ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done in Ireland and around the world.”

In terms of losers, the first might well be the LGBT community – not because of anything it did or failed to do, but the circumstances.

Many would have bet that the LGBT community’s treatment by the Catholic Church, and its place in an Irish society, could well be the defining issue of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. However, the reality of the run-up to the event made the clerical sexual abuse scandals almost the only lens through which the media, and the wider world, assessed the trip.

The other loser, at least in terms of the attention it drew, was the debate over Francis’s  Amoris Laetitia, and its cautious opening to Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Officially, the entire World Meeting of Families was organized around Amoris Laetitia, and it was hoped that the event would represent a turning point in which positive reaction to the document would gain the upper hand. But that did not happen.

Of course, most Catholics who showed up to see the pope at Dublin’s Croke Park Saturday night for a festival of families, or who went to Phoenix Park Sunday afternoon for the World Meeting’s official close, they’re the real winners, regardless of who else might have benefitted – and they’re probably not inclined to think much about who might have lost either.