A west Belfast priest who was one of a group of survivors of clerical abuse to meet Pope Francis in Dublin on Saturday said he believes the pontiff is determined to address the problem.
Fr Paddy McCafferty, parish priest at Corpus Christi Church was one of eight people who held a private meeting with the pontiff during his visit to Ireland.
They represented a wide section of those who were mistreated by members of the Catholic Church in Ireland and included representatives of institutional abuse, mother and baby homes, industrial schools and clerical abuse.
The priest says he was initially against the Pope visiting Ireland because of the hurt that had been caused.
“The first thing I said to him was 'Holy Father two weeks ago at Mass on Sunday I told my parishioners that the Pope should not come'. He smiled and everyone laughed.
“I told him it wasn't against you personally, it was on account of the situation that we are talking about today and on account of the hurt and betrayal and damage to people, abuse in this room, with you as a little representative group of the huge hurt in Ireland and throughout the universal church I said to him, but I’m glad you’re here, I’m glad you've come.”
He added: “I appealed to him, and said even the highest ranking clergy in the church must be seen to be made accountable for covering up, for lying, for mishandling, for incompetence in this very, very painful issue and that no quarter can be given without fear or favour basically.”
Fr McCafferty said it was an “emotional” and “intense” meeting with the leader of the Catholic Church, who “spoke as a human being”.
“He listened and he took the anger that was expressed and he took it on the chin and he himself was obviously very pained and grieved, visibly grieved by what he was hearing,” the priest explained.
He gave every strong impression of determination to address the corruption in the church.
“He gave every strong impression of determination to address the corruption in the church. Corruption is in human nature and the church is no different. He said that can be forgiven when the person repents, but corruption is much more endemic and difficult because its deeply embedded and needs to be rooted out and cleansed. He himself, I am certain, is determined to do that in every human way possible.
“It’s already happening he told us, he’s doing it already. He’s doing his best.”
Fr McCafferty believes that change has already happened in the Catholic Church when it comes to the protection of its vulnerable members.
“We now have very clear procedures for offending clergy who are immediately removed from ministry and who in due course are dismissed from the clerical state as happened in the case of my abuser Jim Donaghy, and he was dismissed by Pope Francis in 2015.”
“There has been tremendous progress, we are not in the position we were ten years ago or twenty years ago,” he continued.
“We are in a position nowadays where there is accountability and there are very clear procedures to follow and if I have a problem and if I encounter a problem where I am worried about a young person or a child I lift the phone immediately and I have people in the diocese that I can speak to with those concerns and they are dealt with very seriously, nothing is hidden.
“Everyone is vetted in the church now, especially those who work with young people in the church so it's not as if we are clueless or starting from scratch there is already very robust procedures in this Diocese of Down and Connor and all other dioceses of Ireland.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s slow progress, it’s a deep deep tragedy and it will not be solved overnight with a magic wand, not even the Pope can do that.”
Following his meeting with survivors, the next day at his address at the Knock shrine, Pope Francis called for firm action in pursuing justice for church abuse victims in Ireland.