Pope acknowledges 'repugnant crimes' of abuse in Ireland

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

DUBLIN (CNS) — Acknowledging the failures “of bishops,
religious superiors, priests and others” in the Catholic Church to protect
children from the “repugnant crimes” of physical and sexual abuse,
Pope Francis began his two-day visit to Ireland.

Meeting with civil, cultural and religious leaders in Dublin
Castle Aug. 25, the pope said he knew that the horrendous history of abuse and
its cover-up in Ireland “has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a
source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.”

“I myself share those sentiments,” the pope said.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said his
letter to the people of God Aug. 20 included “commitment, a greater
commitment to eliminating this scourge from the church whatever the cost.”

With the welcoming ceremony held at the presidential
residence rather than the airport, the mood as the pope descended the steps
from his plane was subdued. Few people were on the road from the airport into
the city. Close to Dublin Castle a group of teenagers held welcome
signs, including one that said, “We love the pope. He gives us hope.”

Before heading to the castle, Pope Francis stopped at
“Aras an Uachtarain,” the Irish president’s residence, where planted
a tree, just as St. John Paul II had done in 1979. The late pope’s oak is now a
mature, shade-providing tree. The Vatican press office said the pope and
President Michael D. Higgins spent 15 minutes speaking privately.

Welcoming Pope Francis to Dublin Castle, Leo Varadkar, the
39-year-old prime minister or Taoiseach, acknowledged how much the Catholic
Church had done over the centuries for the people of Ireland.

But he also spoke plainly of the way both the church and the
Irish state failed its people, especially the most vulnerable.

“The failures of both church and state and wider
society created a bitter and broken heritage for so many, leaving a legacy of
pain and suffering,” Varadkar said. “It is a history of sorrow and

“In place of Christian charity, forgiveness and
compassion, far too often there was judgment, severity and cruelty, in
particular toward women and children and those on the margins,” he said,
citing the Magdalene laundries, where women considered promiscuous were forced
to work, illegal adoptions arranged for children of unwed mothers without their
consent and the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

“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, before asking the pope to “use your office and influence to ensure
this is done here in Ireland and across the world.”

The “heart-breaking stories from Pennsylvania of brutal
crimes” against children detailed in the grand jury report in mid-August
and the cover-up the report described “is a story all too tragically
familiar here in Ireland,” the prime minister said.

“There can only be zero tolerance for those who abuse
innocent children or who facilitate that abuse,” he said. “We must
now ensure that from words flow actions. Above all, Holy Father, I ask to you
to listen to the victims.”

Pope Francis, speaking after the prime minister,
acknowledged how thousands were mistreated by priests and religious. “It
is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast light on the
failings of many, will serve to emphasize the importance of the protection of
minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole.”

The main purpose of the pope’s trip Aug. 25-26 was to join
celebrations of the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families. He told
reporters traveling on the plane from Rome with him that he loves spending time
with families. He also told them he was pleased “to return to Ireland
after 38 years. I was there almost three months (in 1980) to practice my

Addressing Irish leaders at Dublin Castle, the pope spoke in

Ireland has seen major changes since then-Father Jorge
Mario Bergoglio studied English there. In 1995, voters approved a referendum to
legalize divorce; the Good Friday agreements bringing peace to Ireland and
Northern Ireland were signed in 1998; gay marriage was approved in a 2015
referendum; and in May, 66 percent of Irish voters approved a referendum to
legalize divorce. The legislation is expected to be signed in the fall.

Still, Pope Francis said, Catholics have and will continue
to enrich the country with the values of their faith.

“Even in Ireland’s darkest hours,” he said, the
people “found in that faith a source of the courage and commitment needed
to forge a future of freedom and dignity, justice and solidarity.”

As Ireland grows more diverse, the pope said, he hoped the
country would “not be forgetful of the powerful strains of the Christian
message that have sustained it in the past and can continue to do so in the

Thanking Ireland for hosting the World Meeting of Families,
the pope said the Catholic Church wants “to support families in their
efforts to respond faithfully and joyfully to their God-given vocation in

“One need not be a prophet to perceive the difficulties
faced by our families in today’s rapidly evolving society,” Pope Francis
said, “or to be troubled by the effects that the breakdown in marriage and
family life will necessarily entail for the future of our communities at every

“Families are the glue of society,” he said.
“Their welfare cannot be taken for granted, but must be promoted and
protected by every appropriate means.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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