Watching Mary McAleese’s Modern Family on RTÉ on Wednesday night, I was struck by how much Ireland has changed in such a short period of time. The former president marvelled at how diverse and varied Irish families are today compared to the 60s and 70s but the perception of “normal” has shifted drastically even from my own school days in the late 90s.

When I was a child, it would have been considered weird for someone’s parents to be separated. Now, single parent homes are far more commonplace, as are blended families and same sex parents. That, to me, was one of the more heart-warming aspects of Mrs McAleese’s documentary: seeing how accepting and tolerant we have become over the past few decades.

Attitudes to religion have changed too. Looking back at footage of the last papal visit in 1979, it’s staggering to see so many people – young people in particular – lining the streets and flooding the Phoenix Park to see Pope John Paul II. An estimated 2.7 million Irish men, women and children – half the entire population – came out to catch a glimpse of the pontiff at various events across the country. It shows how influential Catholicism was in Ireland at the time.

The Catholic Church is far less prevalent in Irish society today than it was 40 years ago, but Ireland remains one of the most religious countries in Europe. For many, the visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of the Families is still a big deal. Others, however, have highlighted how expensive it will be for the taxpayer. The government are paying €3 million on security measures alone and with the litany of issues that urgently need to be addressed in this country, perhaps most notably in our failing healthcare system, perhaps the money could be put to better use.

It has also been revealed that certain garda operations targeting violent crimes and gangs have been affected by the Pope’s visit. In a bid to save money, gardaí in some parts of Dublin have been told that they cannot carry out crime operations while on overtime. Again, you would have to ask if it’s actually worth it.

As for the Holy Father himself, there seems to be this perception that he’s a particularly liberal and forward-thinking pope. His tone certainly seems to be more progressive than his predecessors when it comes to topics like clerical abuse, but critics have accused him of merely paying lip service.

In a statement released this week he said that no effort would be spared to prevent clerical sex abuse and its cover-up in the future but victims groups say action, not words, is needed.

The Vatican has also ostensibly softened its stance on gay marriage but have attitudes actually shifted, or is the pontiff merely echoing public sentiment in an attempt to keep Catholicism relevant to young people?

The evidence is fairly damning. Pictures of same sex couples were removed from a World Meeting of the Families booklet in January and a video by Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles David O’Connell was edited to exclude the part where he said that all families would be welcome at the event, including gay families.

Irish society has changed dramatically since the last papal visit in 1979. Has the Catholic Church changed with it?

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