In the first major address of his apostolic visit to Ireland, Pope Francis on August 25, 2018, acknowledged the harm caused by the abuse of young people by members of the Church, including bishops, priests, and all others.
“I am very conscious of the circumstances of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters – I think especially of those women who in the past have endured particularly difficult situations,” the Pope said. “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…Each child is, in fact, a precious gift of God, to be cherished, encouraged to develop his or her gifts, and guided to spiritual maturity and human flourishing.
“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.”
The Holy Father’s remarks came in an address to Irish authorities and the diplomatic corps in Dublin. His visit is to commemorate the occasion of the 2018 World Meeting of Families.
The Pope stressed the importance of families and the need to support them. He pointed to the World Meeting as a way to reaffirm commitment to families and celebrate their rich contribution to life, calling the family a “God-given vocation in society”.
“The Meeting is not only an opportunity for families to reaffirm their commitment to loving fidelity, mutual assistance, and reverence for God’s gift of life in all its forms, but also to testify to the unique role played by the family in the education of its members and the development of a sound and flourishing social fabric,” Francis continued. “Families are the glue of society; their welfare cannot be taken for granted, but must be promoted and protected by every appropriate means.”
The Holy Father stressed the bonds of humanity that unite all people, noting the need to apply unity and solidarity to avoid conflict and to protect the weakest and vulnerable. He noted the “special resonance” this has in Ireland, where there existed “the long conflict that separated brothers and sisters of a single family”.
“Twenty years ago, the international community followed attentively the events in Northern Ireland that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.,” the Pope recalled. “The Irish government, in union with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland and the British government, and with the support of other world leaders, created a dynamic context for the peaceful settlement of a conflict that had caused untold pain on both sides.
“Today as in the past, the men and women who live in this country strive to enrich the life of the nation with the wisdom born of their faith. Even in Ireland’s darkest hours, they found in that faith a source of the courage and commitment needed to forge a future of freedom and dignity, justice and solidarity. The Christian message has been an integral part of that experience and has shaped the language, thought and culture of people on this island.”
Pope Francis on Sunday asked for forgiveness for the “scandal and betrayal” felt by victims of sexual exploitation by Catholic clergy as he continued his tour of Ireland where years of abuse scandals have shattered the Church’s former dominance.
On the first papal visit to Ireland in almost four decades, Francis privately met with eight victims of clerical, religious and institutional abuse on Saturday and said he would seek a greater commitment to eliminating this “scourge”.
But pressure on the pope over the issue increased on Sunday when a former top Vatican official accused Francis of having known of allegations of sex abuse by a prominent US cardinal for five years before accepting his resignation last month.
“None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred,” Francis told a crowd of tens of thousands at the Knock shrine in the west of Ireland on Sunday morning.
“This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. I beg forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family,” he said, to applause from the crowd.
Years of sexual abuse scandals have shattered the credibility of the Church which four decades ago dominated Irish society. In the past three years, Irish voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying its wishes.
The dwindling influence of the Catholic Church has been demonstrated by crowds far smaller than those that met Pope John Paul II during the last Papal visit in 1979, when more than three-quarters of Ireland’s population turned out.
Francis, facing sexual abuse crises in several countries, wrote an unprecedented letter to all Catholics last week asking each one of them to help root out “this culture of death” and vowing there would be no more cover ups.
Some of those who turned out on a misty morning in Knock, where a group of locals in 1879 said they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary, said Francis should be given a chance to deal with the abuse issues that have rocked the Church for decades.
“People have to give this man a chance, he’s trying his best,” said Carmel Lane, who travelled from County Longford in the Irish midlands to attend the Mass.
Vatican officials on Sunday declined immediate comment on an 11-page letter given to conservative Roman Catholic media outlets in which Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano said he had told Francis in 2013 that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had faced extensive accusations of sexually abusing lower-ranking seminarians and priests.
McCarrick became the first Cardinal in living memory to resign his position in the Church leadership after a review concluded that allegations he had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy were credible.
McCarrick has said that he had “absolutely no recollection” of the alleged abuse of the teenager 50 years ago but has not commented on the other allegations.
One survivor of clerical abuse who met the pope on Saturday, Paul Redmond, said strong language used by Francis at the meeting gave him hope that something might be shifting in the Catholic Church.
“There’s been a lot of false dawns, there’s been a lot of empty promises and a lot of talk but maybe, maybe this is the time something, something substantial will actually happen in the Church,” Redmond told Reuters.
But others who took part in sporadic protests around Dublin on Saturday were not convinced.
“I don’t think he should come and expect us to pay for his visit when there are people today in Ireland who are so damaged and need so much help that they can’t function because of all the abuse,” said Lisa, 30, who declined to give her family name, as she waited with other protesters for the Popemobile to pass. “He shouldn’t have come.”