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Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland

Hello there Jorge Mario Beroglio, aka The Pope; apologies, but I cannot bring myself to address you as ‘Dear Francis’, never mind ‘Your Holiness’, never mind your official title, ‘His Holiness Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God’ – that’s overkill.

Funnily enough, as soon as I think of you as ‘Jorge’ a photo of you pops up: without your Pope moniker you suddenly look like any other late middle aged snake oil salesman. A con artist with a clownish smile.

Actually, at the very beginning, cue white smoke, Habemus Papem!, wild cheering in the Vatican square where next day Patti Smith was hanging out to greet you, Patti Smith? I was prepared to open the door a crack.  You were 76. You were from Latin America, you were a Jesuit and you looked like someone’s goofy grand uncle; maybe after Ratzinger, ‘God’s Rottweiler’, you’d be harmless enough.

I slammed the door shut again when it turned out your PR man, Greg Burke was from Fox News, a ‘numerary’ of Opus Dei, a celibate who self-flagellates, and who, on being hired said he “know[s] what journalists are looking for and what they need,” and “the people are just chewing this stuff up.”

Jesus, I thought, this guy is going to be worse than Ratz, he’s got spin doctors to make everything in the garden look rosy.

Which sadly is exactly what’s unfolded.

The spin, that you are just a goofy old uncle with nothing but love in your heart and 2p in your bank account has gone down a treat, particularly with Americans. Hiring that Fox News spin doctor wasn’t just genius on the Vatican’s part, it was essential. Most of the Vatican’s dollars come from America, at least 60% of it as The Economist assessed in 2014, with, according to the National Catholic Reporter, $150 million a week going into the Catholic American collection plate. Wow, no wonder you went visiting the old US of A.

Mind you, you probably need all those American dollars to cover up the Church’s nefarious goings-on.

You probably know that here in Ireland where we thought we were unshockable when it came to the grimmer activities of the Catholic Church, the bodies of 796 babies ‘stacked like Cidona bottles’ in septic tanks in the inaptly named Mother and Baby home in Tuam, the West of Ireland were recently found. A charnel house run by your gang, where young girls who got ‘pregnant outside of marriage’ were dumped by their terrified families, and from which many of them never re-emerged, their babies trafficked to local farmers as virtual slave labour, to childless couples in America, or, dead, to medical research labs in Dublin, where 79% of babies died before reaching the age of one, (79%!), where a rare inspection found infants with nappies crawling with maggots, toddlers walking around leaking green diarrhea.

But, your visit to Ireland won’t take you there.

Of course your Church’s attitude to women has long been diabolical. Here’s 3rd Century Tertullian, an early Father, “Woman is a temple built over a sewer.”  Or take Augustine, who wondered why woman was created at all, or, “Man is fertile and perfectly formed, (-), woman is infertile and deformed.” Through Eve we were told, over and over, sin came into the world. O yes, you guys definitely have had it in for women since the get go.

In the Middle Ages, your Church orchestrated a gendercide targeting women who had knowledge of conception, abortion, birth, and death, the herbalists, with access to ‘Eve’s Herbs’. How cleverly and ruthlessly you got rid of them, burning 80,000 of them alive as ‘witches’, along with their knowledge.

It took hundreds of years before we got back control, thanks to Margaret Sangar and the Pill; a liberation still being fought against, in every country in the world, by you and your celibate male chums.

The Catholic Church, the largest provider of health care in the world, still blanket bans family planning care, contraception, and abortion. Well off white Catholic women in America and Europe can ignore your ‘abortion brings instant excommunication’ nonsense, get their pills, and still go to Church, but what of the thousands of poor women outside of the West? The Guttamacher Institute believes proper birth control would prevent 52 million unintended pregnancies, 14 million unsafe abortions and 70,000 maternal deaths a year.

That’s an awful lot of suffering for poor people Jorge, yet still not a budge from you and your apparently kindest of kind hearts?

Actually the famous ‘Francis Effect’ drummed up by your PR boy is wearing a bit thin these days.  Two members of your inner circle, Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Barros in Chile, have long been mired in sexual abuse scandals; you’ve just fired the Chilean guy, though you’ve been defending him and attacking survivors of his abuse for years.  And how about 88-year old American Archbishop McCarrick, another serial abuser, whose ‘resignation’ you’ve recently so graciously accepted, telling him to go lead a life of ‘prayer and penance’.

Sorry what?

Most of us ordinary mortals believe serial sex abusers should go to jail. Simple minded of us I know but how come your guys never face the courts, never face jail, or if they do are swiftly paroled? That for centuries abusing priests and bishops have been protected, while their victims, very often the under privileged, the poor, the deaf, the ‘pregnant outside marriage’ are trashed and disbelieved, and if they dare to stand up, are harried by teams of your lawyers through the courts?

Another bit of spin that intrigues is your much-vaunted love of the poor. “Oh how I would like a poor Church!” you said shortly after reaching Popedom. Still your personal wealth is put at $2 million, and the wealth of the organisation you sit on the top of, variously put at $400 billion – $800 billion; its affairs so secretive nobody really knows.

A strange outfit for a humble, poor loving guy to be involved with no?

People argue you have no power to change the practice of centuries. You’re just a figurehead, stuck with the Church as is. Funnily enough you swiftly and radically shook things up when it came to the Vatican bank in 2014 and discovered the dudes in charge were being, eh, a bit overflaithulach with the money. Your organisation, which has literally spent centuries covering up worldwide sexual abuse, when it came to cash dollars baby, before you could say Bless Me Father, four of the five Vatican Bank Cardinals were fired, indicating you have plenty of power when you need it.

Here in Ireland where your visit is to cost us €20 million, the damage done to victims of clerical abuse is still being counted; as Emer O Toole wrote in her article for the Guardian recently, “the government’s redress scheme for the victims of the church cost €1.5bn; a further €176m was spent supporting survivors with health, housing, education and counselling services. While the government hoped that the costs of redress could be shared 50:50 between the Catholic church and the Irish taxpayer, the church has contributed just €192m to help those it tortured and abused”.

As well as those millions we (i.e., Irish taxpayers) have also spent millions on reports attempting to uncover that torture and abuse; €82 million alone on the Ryan Report, followed by the Murphy Report, the Cloynes report, the Ferns Report, the Limerick report – all costing millions, all detailing horrific and systemic abuse of Irish children, boys, girls, women and babies. All systematically covered up.

Another curious thing for people who claim to be God’s reps on earth, as the Reports began to spill the abuse beans the orders of nuns and brothers involved in these abuses began to divest themselves of sensationally valuable property portfolios, some even coming with their own mass burial pits – no extra charge.  In one, builders were horrified to find bodies of unfortunate women dumped with their plaster casts still on, on arms, wrists, ankles, their identities disappeared under given names such as Magdalene of Therese, Magdalene of Lourdes, so families would not be able to trace them.  Actually the nuns, having pocketed the millions, dug the bodies up and had them incinerated, making damn sure families would not be able to trace them.

Lovely.

Yes your spin doctor has done a brilliant job convincing people you’re a new broom about to sweep the Church clean, while everything appalling about the Church – widespread sexual abuse, a philosophy and practice that is anti women, anti gay, anti contraception, anti abortion, anti same sex marriage, anti the ordination of women in the Church – remains intact.

Your attitudes on child abuse?  “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”

Your attitude to political struggles for same sex marriage? It’s “the envy of the Devil, by which sin entered into the world, which cunningly seeks to destroy the image of God.”

On the ordination of women in the Church?  “That door is closed.”

On abortion? “Defend the unborn against abortion even if they persecute you, calumniate you, set traps for you, take you to court or kill you.”

On transgender rights? “a nuclear arms race.”

Here in Ireland we’re doing our absolute best to liberate ourselves from over 150 years of oppression, intimidation and abuse by the Catholic Church.  Over the past fifty years, particularly since the founding of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement which challenged your power head on, we’ve legalised contraception, divorce, same sex marriage, even, ever so recently, abortion.

We’re coming out from under the regime that made us abandon our daughters to Magdalene laundries, that insisted our little boys go to Industrial Schools, that forced guilt and shame on us all.

It’s been a long hard road, and we’re not at the end of it yet.  We still have to regain control of our hospitals and our schools.  And we still have to din into the dumb heads of our politicians that we’re done with you; our leaders who believe that protesting your visit is “petty, intolerant, and certainly the opposite of progressive”; or  “wrong, petty, and mean-spirited.” And  “not legitimate protest”.

Ha! ha! ha!

Not legitimate to protest the visit of the head of an organisation that has raped hundreds of thousands, let thousands of babies die, worked young women to their deaths and then thrown them into mass graves, preached so much shame and guilt that we as a nation became so divorced from our sexuality and our humanity that we stood by and let all this perversity happen? Please.

Dear Jorge, we’re not so easily fooled anymore. If you came visiting every day for a year I don’t think you’d stop the journey we’re on.  Too many of us have seen you guys for what you are: hypocrites who terrorise others into believing they’re ‘bad’ while their own badness is carried on in plain sight, with full impunity.

Shame on you Jorge. Shame on the Church you are head of. Please stay at home.

Rosita A. Sweetman is writer, editor, and curator, She lives in Dublin.
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