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A Lot Has Changed In Ireland Since The Last Time A Pope Visited


Pope Francis is set to arrive in Ireland tomorrow. There's been a lot of change since the last time a pope visited the country almost 40 years ago. Ireland has legalized gay marriage, and the country has voted to end an abortion ban. Those are two big taboos for the Catholic Church. This weekend, people in Ireland are hoping Pope Francis will directly address the staggering number of stories of sexual abuse and cover-ups by the church - not just the most recent scandals but the ones that have affected people in Ireland for decades.

Here to talk more about the pope's upcoming visit is Irish journalist Paddy Agnew. He's been covering the Vatican for over 30 years. Welcome.

PADDY AGNEW: Good afternoon to you.

CHANG: This visit by Pope Francis - it comes directly after a recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailing abuse by more than 300 priests going back decades. It was a report that shook Catholics here in the U.S. How have people in Ireland been reacting to it?

AGNEW: Well, it shook people in Ireland. You know, one of the things I think about this weekend's visit to Ireland by the pope is that it just had to be Ireland. Our thought - it's a delicate moment as pontificate. He's - goes to Ireland, which is the ground zero of Catholic clerical sex abuse. And it provides a model for the Catholic Church that's lost moral authority.

CHANG: I mean, Pope Francis has been criticized for being too hesitant for too long when it came to his response to sexual abuse within the church. How has he come across to Catholics in Ireland?

AGNEW: Exactly that. The Catholics in Ireland would be very much on the same page as a lot of Catholics in North America on this. The clerical sex abuse crisis is nothing new. I mean, we had the North American church summoned to Rome by John Paul II. And yet here we are in 2018 seeming to go through exactly the same screenplay all over again.

And what's - what is particularly difficult at the moment is there are problems in Honduras at the moment. There are problems in Chile, in Croatia, in Australia. This is, without exaggerating, global. This is a global problem.

CHANG: So what are people expecting to see or want to see from Francis this weekend and going forward?

AGNEW: What they would want and what they expect are practically impossible. They want him to convince them that he's got a hold of the problem, that he's going to implement a radical change. I simply cannot see that because the type of change that might convince many of his critics would be fundamental changes of church teachings.

CHANG: I mean, there's been a substantial decline in people attending church in Ireland. And as we mentioned, same-sex marriage is legal there, and abortion ban's been revoked. Both of those moves are complete rejections of Catholic doctrine. How much would reform from the Vatican even mean to Irish citizens at this point?

AGNEW: I think that's a very good question because I think if you look at the under-25, I don't think it means anything. The under-25 are completely indifferent to what Pope Francis might or might not say and pay no attention to him and...

CHANG: The church just isn't a presence in their lives.

AGNEW: He isn't a presence in their lives at all in the vast majority young people. You know, in this summer's abortion referendum, more than 90 percent of that age group voted in favor of abortion.

CHANG: So maybe this visit by Pope Francis is just too little too late in Ireland.

AGNEW: I would have said so, yeah.

CHANG: Paddy Agnew is an Irish journalist reporting from Italy. Thank you very much, Paddy.

AGNEW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.