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Irish bishop defends Pope Francis' response to abuse but says letter could have been 'more concrete'

Bishop Alan McGuckian says the Pope should be judged on his actions.

Pope Francis arrives in Ireland on Saturday.
Pope Francis arrives in Ireland on Saturday.
Image: PA Images

THE BISHOP OF Raphoe has said that he feels Pope Francis’ letter to Catholics yesterday could have gone further and delivered something “more concrete”.

The ‘Letter to the People of God’ from the head of the Catholic church acknowledged that the pain of victims of priests had been “long ignored” and that some had been “kept quiet or silenced”.

The Pope’s letter was criticised by survivors group One in Four, which said that it did not contain “one single concrete step” that would be taken to hold clerical sex abusers accountable.

Speaking about the letter on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Bishop Alan McGuckian of Raphoe said that he too wanted something more concrete, but added that the current Pope has shown that he is willing to act.

“I too felt when I read the letter that I wanted something more concrete – but by Pope Francis’ actions in recent months he has shown that in the one specific case when he became clearly and unambiguously aware of that kind of failure on the part of bishops he has acted,” McGuckian said.

The bishop was referring to the case of thirty-four Chilean bishops who resigned after being summoned to the Vatican over a church sex abuse scandal in the South American country.

“In his practice, we saw this recently in Chile, after being misled, and he admitted he had been misled. He called bishops, specific bishops, named bishops to account and I believe that was clearly a very good sign,” McGuckian said.

“And I think he has to go and the church must go the next step and ensure the church’s law has accountability for bishops and religious superiors, specifically with regard to this matter,” he added.

During an at-times difficult interview, the bishop was asked whether any bishops “who have been criticised for not protecting children” would be part of the World Meeting of Families.

The bishop said he did could not answer that question but that he could answer about his own diocese.

“The one thing I can speak about is Raphoe and I know that Bishop Boyce, my immediate predecessor in the audit that came out in 2011, he was commended for the work that he had done,” McGuckian said.

It said he was slow getting into the job but he had done an excellent job and was very, very committed to the safeguarding of children. And while there was criticism of him, there was never any suggestion anything he ever did left children vulnerable.

Bishop McGuckian also said that felt that the church’s laws need to be changed to ensure that bishops act, but that implementing such things is “a learning process”.

Nobody is above the law. While the church’s laws need to be updated of course, in many ways with regards to the safeguarding of children, it’s secondary, absolutely it’s cooperating with the civil authorities. There’s nobody above the law, whether they’re a church person or anybody else.

“It is a learning process, it’s clearly a learning process in the Catholic church and it’s also been a learning process in civil society where that specific matter of holding people came to bear.”

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Rónán Duffy

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