Clerical sexual abuse victims meet Pope

Pope Francis arrives at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, to join an audience of 82,500 and hear five testimonies by families from Ireland, Canada, Iraq, and Africa, during the Festival of Families event, as part of his visit to Ireland. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Pope Francis arrives at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, to join an audience of 82,500 and hear five testimonies by families from Ireland, Canada, Iraq, and Africa, during the Festival of Families event, as part of his visit to Ireland. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The Pope has met with victims of church abuse and mistreatment in Ireland after expressing pain and shame over failures to tackle the scandals.

The 90-minute private encounter with eight survivors at the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Dublin came hours after the Pope acknowledged that Irish people had a right to be outraged by the church’s response to the crimes.

On the first day of his historic visit to Ireland, the pontiff also prayed for all victims of clerical sex abuse.

The Pope’s decision to address the dark legacy of abuse in a speech in Dublin Castle drew praise in some quarters, but others criticised Francis for not saying enough or offering a public apology.

With the reverberations of a litany of clerical sex crimes casting a shadow over the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years, Francis acknowledged the gravity of what had happened.

“With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” he said.

“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.

“I myself share those sentiments.”

Later in the day, Francis sat in prayerful contemplation inside a Dublin cathedral at a candle perpetually lit for those abused.

On a full day of engagements in the Irish capital, the Pope also visited homeless people who receive support from a centre run by the Capuchin Fathers’ religious order.

In his Dublin Castle speech, the pontiff also expressed hope that remaining obstacles to reconciliation in Northern Ireland could be overcome.

Ireland has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit in 1979, when John Paul II was lauded by a nation shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.

But the church’s response to clerical sex abuse scandals, most of which emerged years after John Paul II’s visit, have severely damaged trust in the religious institution and seriously weakened its influence on Irish society.

While thousands lined the streets of the capital to catch a glimpse of Francis passing in his famous Popemobile on Saturday afternoon, the crowds were certainly not on the scale witnessed when John Paul II made a similar trip. And among the well-wishers lining Dublin’s streets there were also protesters, who vented their anger at the pontiff as he drove by.

During his address at the castle, Francis referred to steps taken by his predecessor Pope Benedict, as he insisted the church was acting on abuse.

“It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast light on the failings of many, will serve to emphasise the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole,” he said.

Afterwards, one abuse survivor, Colm O’Gorman, branded his response as “disgraceful”.

“He could have talked to us all in a way that was blunt, that was clear, that was frank, that was human, that was accessible,” he said.

“He refused to do so. And that’s a huge shame. I think frankly it’s rather disgraceful”.

In the speech, the Pope said he also wished to acknowledge women who in the past had “endured particularly difficult circumstances”.

Later, he passed close to the site of a former Magdalene laundry as he arrived on Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city to meet well-wishers outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

The notorious laundry institutions run by Catholic religious orders effectively incarcerated thousands of young women from troubled backgrounds and forced them to work under harsh conditions.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar had earlier urged the Pope to “listen to the victims” in his own address at Dublin Castle.

In forthright remarks, the Taoiseach said there had to be “zero tolerance” for those who abuse and anyone who facilitated them.

Mr Varadkar also acknowledged the Irish state’s failings in the mistreatment of many in the past, describing the nation’s history of “sorrow and shame”.

“Wounds are still open and there is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors,” he said.

“Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the world.”

Mr Varadkar said he hoped the Pope’s visit marked a “new chapter” in Ireland’s relationship with the Catholic Church.

The Pope has spent 90 minutes meeting Irish survivors of clerical abuse and mistreatment in Dublin.

The “polite and cordial” discussion focused on the plight of past residents of Catholic homes for mothers and babies and victims of forced and illegal adoption.

The meeting took place at the Papal Nuncio’s residence. The Papal Nuncio is the Pope’s diplomatic representative to Ireland.

A letter from survivors released afterwards said: “Around 100,000 single mothers who were forcibly separated from their babies were regularly told it was a mortal sin to search for, or even contact, their own sons and daughters.

“As an act of healing, Pope Francis, we ask that you make it clear to the now elderly and dying community of natural mothers and adoptees that there is no sin in reunion and rather that it is a joyous event that should be encouraged and facilitated by the Catholic Church.”

They said many natural mothers and adoptees will be in attendance at a papal Mass on Sunday.

The letter added: “Five orders and congregations of Catholic nuns ran Ireland’s notorious Mother and Baby homes where over 6,000 babies and children died as well as dozens of young mothers.

“These nuns have never taken responsibility for their wilful neglect. We ask you, Pope Francis, to publicly call on these nuns to acknowledge their actions and issue an unqualified apology to all the survivors of their institutions.

“We also request that you call on these nuns to immediately commit to paying the full cost of the current inquiry and any redress that may be awarded in the future.”

The papal visit to Ireland has so far been dominated by the Vatican’s response to clerical abuse.

Clodagh Malone, who was born in Saint Patrick’s Mother and Baby home in Dublin and adopted at 10 weeks old, asked the Pope to publicly state that the natural mothers who lost their babies to adoption had done nothing wrong, and call for reconciliation and reunion for these families broken by the Catholic Church both in Ireland and around the world.

The Pope agreed to include the message in his Mass on Sunday, survivors said.

Paul Redmond, who was born in Castlepollard Mother and Baby home in Co Westmeath and adopted at 17 days, asked the Pope to publicly call upon the orders of nuns who ran the homes to immediately accept their responsibilities for the “horror” that went on for generations in the homes, issue an unqualified and sincere apology, and pay the full costs of inquiries and redress in Ireland as a matter of urgency.

The Pope did apologise to all for what happened in the homes, the survivors said.

Their statement added: “Pope Francis condemned corruption and cover up within the church as ‘caca’.

“Literally filth as one sees in a toilet, his translator clarified.”

Mr Redmond said they hope there will be more movement from the church on the issue of Mother and Baby homes.

“The Pope was genuinely shocked to hear about the 6,000 babies who died and the 3,000 banished babies... lifted his hands to his head in shock.”

Ms Malone said it was a powerful meeting.

“He listened with a genuine interest, and he asked many questions about Mother and Baby homes.”

Earlier, the Pope met Irish President Michael D Higgins at his official residence in Phoenix Park. Mr Higgins also raised the issue of abuse, conveying the anger felt by many Irish citizens at the scandals.

A spokesman for Mr Higgins said that during the meeting, the Irish President raised with the pope the “immense suffering and hurt caused by child sex abuse perpetrated by some within the Catholic Church”.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the spokesman said Mr Higgins also told Pope Francis of the “anger which had been conveyed to him at what was perceived to be the impunity enjoyed by those who had the responsibility of bringing such abuses for action by the appropriate authorities and have not done so”.

“The President welcomed the honest and forthright language that His Holiness used when addressing the issue in his recent Letter to the People of God,” the spokesman for the President said.

“He conveyed to Pope Francis the widely-held view that all would benefit from a set of actions that gave the necessary assurances to all citizens past, present and future, of all faiths and none.”

The Pope also used the first day of his visit to praise those who helped forge Northern Ireland’s historic Good Friday peace agreement in 1998.

In an apparent reference to the current political deadlock in Northern Ireland, which has seen the region without a properly functioning devolved government for 20 months, Francis said: “We can give thanks for the two decades of peace that followed this historic agreement, while expressing firm hope that the peace process will overcome every remaining obstacle and help give birth to a future of harmony, reconciliation and mutual trust.”

Francis is ostensibly in Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) - a major global church event focused on promoting family values.

He ended his first day of engagements by joining 82,000 others at a WMOF musical celebration in the landmark Croke Park Gaelic Athletic Association stadium. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli was among those to sing for the Pope, delivering a powerful rendition of Ave Maria.

The Pope’s Saturday itinerary also included meeting with engaged and recently married couples in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral.

On Sunday, the Pope will fly west to Co Mayo, where he will follow in the footsteps of John Paul II and take part in a religious service at a holy shrine in Knock.

He will then return to Dublin for the closing centrepiece of the WMOF event - an outdoor Mass in front of an expected congregation of half a million people in Phoenix Park.