Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick has encouraged a fresh collaboration between the Church and the government of the Republic of Ireland.
“I make a humble plea to all who want to begin with us again in a new way, what the Taoiseach called a new covenant; let's rebuild a church at the service of Irish society,” he told the Irish Times.
He clarified that the new relationship would enable the Church to be at “the service of the Irish people.”
Bishop Leahy's comments come in the wake of the World Meeting of Families, where Pope Francis spoke about the country's clerical abuse scandal.
The Bishop of Limerick identified the scandals as “a blindness in the Church” which is now being viewed with open eyes. He said that despite the discouraging events in the Church, the faith has been a constant in the country, which was greatly expressed during the World Meeting of Families.
“It was everywhere I turned. At a time when many have – for one reason or another, not least the scandals that have hit the church – shied away from public expressions of faith, people felt released from shackles for the weekend. The freedom and joy as they celebrated being part of God's kingdom was remarkable and not seen since 1979 in this country.”
This does not negate the evil which has been committed, he added. However, he said it would be unfair to present and future possibilities to see the Church only in light of these scandals.
“Clearly those who attended the ceremonies in Dublin and Knock have a deep love of their faith and we must continue to nourish that. It is our mission. The sins of the past cannot be allowed to cloud over that mission,” he said.
He said the Church has made tremendous strides in improving the protection of children and repeated the Church's decision to cooperate with the authorities. If any secrets of abuse remain hidden, he encouraged those members of the Church to bring it into the light.
“I plead with them to come forward immediately and own up to this, again to State and church authorities. Do not put yourself in a situation where the poison within can infect others. There is no place for this in God's house.” The relationships between the Church and the Irish government have been strained in recent years.
In May, voters repealed the Eighth Amendment, which banned abortion. The following month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that publicly-funded hospitals in Ireland will be required to perform abortions, even if they are Catholic and morally opposed to the procedure.
Individual medical professionals will be able to opt out of performing abortions, but entire hospitals will not be able to do so.