Pope gets tepid welcome on 1st day of Ireland visit
Francis vows crackdown on sex abuse in the church, meets with survivors
Pope Francis faced a lukewarm reception and scattered protests Saturday on his trip to Ireland, with even his vow to rid the church of the "scourge" of sexual abuse and his outrage at those "repugnant crimes" dismissed as an insult by Ireland's wounded victims.
But others who met with him in private left heartened that he would respond to their plight, including two of the thousands of children who were forcibly put up for adoption for having been born to unwed mothers.
The abuse scandal — which has convulsed Ireland since the 1990s and has recently exploded anew in the United States — took centre stage on the first day of Francis's two-day trip to Ireland. The visit was originally intended to celebrate Catholic families but has been overshadowed by the renewed abuse crisis.
Francis sought to respond to the outcry by vowing to end sex abuse, during a speech to Irish government authorities at Dublin Castle.
"The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community," he told them. "I myself share these sentiments."
The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share these sentiments.- Pope Francis
He cited measures taken by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to respond to the crisis. But while Benedict is credited with cracking down on abusers, he never acknowledged the Vatican's role in fuelling a culture of coverup or sanctioned bishops for failing to protect their flocks from predator priests.
Meeting with abuse survivors
Francis fulfilled his promise and held a half-hour meeting with eight survivors of both clerical and institutional abuse and prayed quietly before a candle lit for victims in Dublin's cathedral. But neither his words nor the meeting with victims is likely to assuage demands for heads to roll over the abuse scandal.
"Disappointing, nothing new," was the reaction from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, a former member of Francis's sex abuse advisory panel who quit last year, citing "frustration" over an alleged lack of co-operation from Vatican officials. She later took part in Francis's meeting with seven other abuse survivors, including two priests and a public official.
Colm O'Gorman, who is leading a solidarity rally on Sunday in Dublin for abuse victims, said Francis's remarks about sharing the shame felt by Catholics were an "insult to faithful Catholics, who have no reason to feel shame because of the crimes of the Vatican and the institutional church."
A different Ireland
The reception that Francis received in Dublin contrasted sharply with the raucous, rock star welcome that greeted John Paul II in 1979 in the first-ever papal visit to that country. No one from the public was at the airport or on the roads nearby when Francis arrived Saturday, and the streets near a church-run homeless shelter that Francis visited were practically empty despite barricades designed to hold back crowds.
Crowds did throng Francis's popemobile route and gathered outside Dublin's cathedral, basking in the sunny weather.
And two of the Irish adoptees said they were heartened Francis said he would address their concerns at mass on Sunday. They are asking him to publicly state that their mothers had done nothing wrong and to encourage reconciliation between all unwed mothers, many of them now aged, who were forced by society and the church to give up their children.
Paul Redmond, who was born in a home and given up for adoption at 17 days, urged the pope to publicly call on the six orders of Catholic nuns who ran the homes to accept responsibility for the traumas they caused, issue an apology and pay for the costs of inquiries.
Ireland has had one of the world's worst records of clergy sex abuse — crimes that were revealed to its 4.8 million people over the past decade by government-mandated inquiries. The reviews concluded that thousands of children were raped or molested by priests or physically abused in church-run schools, and Irish bishops worked for years to hide those crimes.
After the Irish church enacted tough new norms to fight abuse, it had been looking to the first visit by a pope in 39 years to show a different, more caring church.
Hope for healing
More than 37,000 people — most of them young Catholics — signed up to attend a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families that ends Sunday in Dublin, more than twice the number of a rally in Philadelphia three years ago.
Francis urged the Irish to recognize that for all its failings, the Catholic Church educated and cared for generations of Irish children in times of famine and great poverty.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar concurred, saying the church stepped in to care for Irish children when the state did not. But in his speech to the Pope at Dublin Castle, he said both church and state had a history of "sorrow and shame," and he urged the Pope to ensure that victims of sex abuse find "justice and truth and healing."
Ireland's tortured history of abuse has left its mark. Irish voters in recent years have turned their backs on core Catholic teachings. They have overturned a constitutional ban on abortion and legalized divorce, contraception, previously banned homosexual acts and same-sex marriage.