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Pope vows action on 'repugnant' abuse scandal

August 25, 2018

Facing growing outrage over the Catholic Church's cover-up of child sex abuse, the pope vowed action during his trip to Ireland. Abuse survivors weren't buying it, with one telling DW the pope's response was "toothless."

Pope Francis walks in front of a candle in member of sex abuse victims at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin
Image: picture-alliance/Catholic Press Photo/P. Haring

Pope Francis began his 36-hour trip to Ireland on Saturday by acknowledging the failures of the Catholic Church to punish priests and other clergy who raped and molested children.

Addressing a state reception attended by some abuse survivors, Francis said church leaders failed to address the "repugnant crimes" committed by clergy.

The lack of action to address the scandal "has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community," Francis said, adding: "I myself share theses sentiments."

Francis said he was committed to ridding the Catholic Church of this "scourge," but he did not provide any new details about measures to punish bishops who either turned a blind eye to the abuse or actively covered it up.

He later prayed in front of a candle commemorating abuse victims at the St. Mary's Pro Cathedral that was first lit in 2011.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the country's first openly-gay leader, urged Francis to ensure that the sex abuse survivors find "justice and truth and healing."

Survivors criticize pope's 'toothless' response

Mark Vincent Healy, an abuse survivor, told DW that Francis' response to the scandal is "toothless."

Healy, who was abused by two priests as a student and now advocates for other victims, said the church has not confronted the full "depth and extent" of the abuse. He added that although the church has made several promises to address the scandal, its actions have fallen short.

One of the survivors present at Francis' reception in Dublin said the pope's remarks were a "pure deflection" and failed to acknowledge the Vatican's role in covering up the abuse.

"It was quite shocking actually in some ways," O'Gorman told national broadcaster RTE. He added that Francis "continues to suggest that such shame should be carried by the faithful of the church, by ordinary Catholics."

Later on Saturday, the Vatican said Francis met with eight survivors of abuse carried out by clergy and at Catholic institutions. The Vatican said Francis met with the survivors for around a half hour. 

Ireland's first papal visit in decades

Francis will spend the next 36 hours touring Ireland, marking the first papal visit to the country in 39 years. He also spent Saturday speaking to married couples, meeting with homeless people and attending a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families event that ends Sunday in Dublin.

On Sunday, he will visit the town of Knock to visit the Marian shrine and will later return to Dublin where he will deliver a Mass in Phoenix Park. Thousands of people are expected to join a solidarity march for sex abuse survivors on Sunday that will coincide with Francis' Mass.

Demonstrators gathered on Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge on Saturday to coincide with Francis' arrival in Ireland. The "We are Church Ireland" group is campaigning for reforms in the church to include the ordination of women and end the exclusion of LGBT people.

Protesters covered the bridge in rainbow flags, purple umbrellas to support LGBT and women in the church. They also tied blue ribbons to support abuse victims.

Ireland has undergone significant changes since the last papal visit by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The staunchly Catholic country has changed significantly since then, particularly after child abuse cases came to light in the 1980s and 1990s, shaking trust in the church.

In recent years, people in Ireland have voted to legalize gay marriage and abortion in referendums, defying the will of the Catholic Church.

Outrage over the church's sexual abuse scandal has been growing worldwide following recent revelations of misconduct and cover-ups within the US church hierarchy, a similar crisis in Chile and prosecutions of top clerics in France and Australia.

rs/ng (AP, dpa, Reuters)