Reuters – Dublin was preparing for the arrival of Pope Francis on Saturday (August 25) morning in what will be the first trip by a pope to Ireland in nearly 40 years.
On his two-day visit to the country, the pontiff will likely find an Ireland his predecessor would not have recognized as Catholic.
Ireland is now led by a gay prime minister. Three years ago, it became the world’s first country to adopt gay marriage by popular ballot. Last May, it ended one of the West’s strictest abortion regimes. Both referendums won by large majorities despite Church opposition. Weekly Mass attendance was at about 80 percent 40 years ago. It’s about 35 percent now, and last year only half of the marriages were held in religious ceremonies in churches.
And the pope will find a wounded Church whose once-absolute authority has been laid low by sexual abuse scandals.
Francis could not be visiting Ireland at a worse time. Recent sexual abuse crises in the United States, Chile, and Australia have reminded the Irish people of their scandals at home and fed escalating anger towards bishops who mishandled abuse cases.
One Vatican official called the combination “a perfect storm.”
The main purpose of the pope’s trip is to close a week-long international Catholic gathering on the theme of the family that takes place every three years in a different city.