The Vatican says Pope Francis has met with eight survivors of clerical and institutional abuse on the first day of his trip to Ireland, which is ground zero for the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Francis met with the group for about a half hour Saturday evening. Among the victims was Marie Collins, a prominent survivor who served on Francis’ advisory board but quit in frustration last year. She has since become a harsh critic of the Vatican, and occasionally the pope.
Burke named several participants after they agreed to be identified publicly. They included two priests and a public official.
Francis arrived in Dublin on Saturday and vowed to end the “scourge” of abuse. He said he shared the outrage over the cover-up of “these repugnant crimes.”
The harrowing plight of the Tuam babies — the hundreds of Irish children who were buried in a mass grave on the grounds of a Catholic Church-run “mother and baby” home — has gotten on the agenda of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland.
Ireland’s minister for children, Katherine Zappone, spoke to the pope about the Tuam home Saturday on the first day of his two-day trip to Ireland. Neither Zappone’s spokesman nor the Vatican revealed the contents of the conversation, but the Vatican spokesman said it concerned the Tuam home and Francis said her words “still echo in my ears.”
An amateur Irish historian, Catherine Corless, traced the deaths of 796 children at the Tuam, County Galway, home to a grave in a sewage area of the orphanage that the sisters of the French Bon Secours religious order ran to take in children of unwed mothers.
Zappone’s ministry is to recommend what to do with the site this autumn. Survivors want the graves unearthed and the children given a proper burial, but another proposal calls for a memorial to be erected.
Survivors of priestly sex abuse and their supporters are voicing grave disappointment in Pope Francis’ opening speech in Ireland, saying it was a “staggering effort at deflection” that ignored the Vatican’s own role in fueling a culture of cover-up for predator priests.
Colm O’Gorman, who is leading a solidarity rally Sunday in Dublin for abuse victims, said Francis’ remarks about 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.”
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of the online resource Bishop Accountability, said Francis “gave little comfort to heartsick victims” since he provided no details on how he would end the problem, since he alone can sanction complicit bishops.
A small group of protesters demonstrated against the pope’s visit outside Dublin Castle, with one banner reading: “Pedophile supporters go home.”
Ireland’s prime minister has urged Pope Francis to use his “office and influence” to ensure clergy sex abuse victims worldwide receive “justice and truth and healing.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar addressed the pope on Saturday as Francis began the first papal visit to Ireland in nearly four decades. Varadkar acknowledged the Catholic Church had provided generations of Catholics with education and health care when the Irish government did not.
But he said church and state both had a history of “sorrow and shame,” citing the Magdalene laundries where women were confined and forced to work, the homes where unwed mothers were mistreated and the “stain” of clerical sex abuse.
In appealing to the pope, Varadkar cited a recent grand jury report from the U.S. state of Pennsylvania which found 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children over 70 years.
He cited Francis’ own call for “zero tolerance” of abuse and said: “We must now ensure that from words flow actions.”
Pope Francis says he shares the outrage over the failures of church authorities to punish the “repugnant crimes” of priests who raped and molested children, seeking to respond to a global Catholic outcry over the abuse scandal at the start of his visit to Ireland.
In a speech to Irish government authorities on Saturday, Francis cited measures taken by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to respond to the clergy abuse crisis. But he provided no new indications that he would take forceful action to hold bishops accountable for protecting children or to sanction them when they fall short.
Francis said: “The failure of ecclesial authorities … 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 has arrived in Ireland for the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades.
A plane carrying Francis and his entourage landed at Dublin International Airport on Saturday after a two-hour flight from Rome.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to welcome the pope, but there will also be demonstrations and vigils by survivors of clergy sex abuse in a country where attitudes on the Catholic Church are shifting.
Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, who recently played a prominent role in the successful campaign to liberalize the country’s strict abortion laws, said it would be a weekend of “mixed emotions.”
Harris tweeted: “For many; excitement, for others; feelings of hurt….Whatever your perspective, let’s hope for a weekend where reconciliation & healing can commence.”
Pope Francis has departed for Ireland, the first papal visit to that traditionally Roman Catholic country since 1979.
As usual, Francis carried his black leather satchel himself as he climbed the stairs to board an Alitalia A320 on Saturday and greeted the flight crew.
The plane, which also carried his entourage, took off from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport at 8:30 a.m. local time (0630 GMT.)
The pope’s visit to Ireland risks being dominated by criticism over the Catholic Church hierarchy’s handling of predator priests who sexually abused children.
The pope is scheduled to return to Rome late Sunday night.
Pope Francis is heading to Ireland as the Catholic Church faces a global crisis for its systemic failures to protect children from clergy sex abuse or to punish bishops who hid the crimes.
Francis was expected to meet with abuse victims on Saturday as part of his 36-hour visit to Dublin, where the Vatican says he will have “many opportunities” to speak out about abuse.
His visit is the first by a pope to Ireland in 40 years and is aimed at showing the church understands the problems of ordinary Catholic families.
A Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families that opened on Tuesday ends Sunday in Dublin. More than 37,000 people — most of them young Catholics — signed up to attend the event, more than twice the number who did when the family rally was held in Philadelphia three years ago.