Irish Jesuit theologian Gerry O’Hanlon has been commenting on the news that Pope Francis has confirmed today, 21 March, that he will travel to Ireland from 25 to 26 August this year as part of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. Talking to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, and commenting on the Phoenix Park as a venue for the final Mass, Gerry O’Hanlon says that Pope Francis is visiting a different Ireland from the one Pope John Paul II visited in 1979. The country is much more secularised, and the clerical sexual abuse scandals and how they were handled, has eroded the moral authority of the church.
The former Irish Provincial hopes that the Pope’s visit will lead to more than just an emotional response from people like the buzz one might get at a celebrity concert. There is an opportunity now, he says, for people to go deeper and not just listen to what Francis says but try to follow his process of implementing a synodal church that listens to, and learns from, the experience of its members.
In response to the recent controversies surrounding the WMFD removing the picture of a gay couple from their catechetical book Lets Talk, Lets be Family, and the editing of an interview with US Bishop David O’Connell where he talks about the Pope and his inclusivity around all types of families including gay ones, Gerry O’Hanlon SJ notes that the Pope is often ahead of local churches in terms of listening carefully and responding to issues regarding sexuality and gender.
He says that arising from the Synod on the Family in 2015, the Pope had moved considerably regarding the position of divorce and remarried people. Pope Francis, he says, listens carefully and is not afraid to allow what he hears influence his interpretation, and even implementation, of church teaching. He is interested in the church learning from culture so as to reformulate a more integrated teaching that is in line with a synodal Church.
The Jesuit theologian believes that the Pope will make other pastoral visits during his stay in Ireland perhaps to prisoners or survivors of child sexual abuse. It would be wonderful too, he says for him to visit Northern Ireland which he believes would boost the process of reconciliation.
Gerry O’Hanlon’s main wish is that the Pope’s visit will contribute to a long-term plan for a more synodal Church at local, national, and universal level where no issue will be off the agenda and which will bring about lasting fruit for everyone.