Belfast Telegraph

Pope prays for victims of sex abuse during Ireland visit

His visit to the cathedral on Saturday afternoon came ahead of a drive through the city in the Pope Mobile.

The Pope has prayed for the victims of clerical sex abuse in Ireland after expressing pain and shame at the failure of church authorities to tackle the scandal.

Francis sat in prayerful contemplation inside a Dublin cathedral at a candle perpetually lit for those abused on the first day of his historic visit to the country.

The gesture at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral came after the pontiff acknowledged that people had a right to be outraged at the response of senior figures in the Catholic Church to the crimes inflicted on young people.

In the speech at Dublin Castle, he expressed hope that remaining obstacles to reconciliation in Northern Ireland could be overcome.

His visit to the cathedral on Saturday afternoon came ahead of a drive through the city in the Pope Mobile.

With the reverberations of a litany of church sex abuse scandals casting a shadow over the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years, Francis confronted the issue in his Dublin Castle address.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Francis referred to action take by his predecessor, Pope Benedict, as he insisted the church was acting.

“It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast light on the failings of many, will serve to emphasise the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole,” he said.

The Pope said he also wished to acknowledge women who in the past had “endured particularly difficult circumstances”.

Later, he passed close to the site of a former Magdalene laundry as he arrived on Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city to meet well-wishers outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

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Supporters wait to see Pope Francis outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Sean McDermott Street (Niall Carson/PA)

The notorious laundry institutions run by Catholic religious orders effectively incarcerated thousands of young women from troubled backgrounds and forced them to work under harsh conditions.

During his Dublin Castle speech, the Pope praised those who helped forge Northern Ireland’s historic Good Friday peace agreement in 1998.

In an apparent reference to the current political deadlock in Northern Ireland, which has seen the region without a properly functioning devolved government for 20 months, Francis said: “We can give thanks for the two decades of peace that followed this historic agreement, while expressing firm hope that the peace process will overcome every remaining obstacle and help give birth to a future of harmony, reconciliation and mutual trust.”

The speech came after a private meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and later the Irish premier urged the Pope to “listen to the victims” in his own address at Dublin Castle.

Mr Varadkar said there had to be zero tolerance for those who abuse and anyone who facilitated them.

“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.

“Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the world.”

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Pope Francis presents Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with a gift (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Varadkar said he hoped the Pope’s visit marked a “new chapter” in Ireland’s relationship with the Catholic Church.

Earlier, the Pope met Irish President Michael D Higgins at his official residence in Phoenix Park.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to welcome Francis during his whistle-stop tour of the capital city and Co Mayo over the weekend.

During his Irish trip, the Pope will witness a country that has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit in 1979, when John Paul II was lauded by a nation shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.

While the Pope received a warm reception from the many pilgrims who have travelled to be part of the occasion, protesters have also taken the streets to voice anger at how the church dealt with the sex abuse scandals that have damaged trust in the religious institution and seriously weakened its influence on Irish society.

At some point over the weekend, the Pope will meet a number of abuse victims at a private event.

Earlier this week, he wrote a 2,000-word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups.

He demanded accountability in response to fresh revelations in Pennsylvania in the United States of decades of misconduct by clerics.

Francis is ostensibly in Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) – a major global church event focused on promoting family values.

However, he will also fulfil a number of other engagements.

With Ireland in the midst of a high-profile homelessness problem, the Pope will meet a number of affected individuals and families at a centre run by a religious order.

Later, he will join 82,000 pilgrims at a musical festival in the landmark Croke Park Gaelic Athletic Association stadium.

On Sunday, the Pope will fly west to Co Mayo, where he will follow in the footsteps of John Paul II and take part in a religious service at a holy shrine in Knock.

He will then return to Dublin for the closing centrepiece of the WMOF event – an outdoor Mass in front of an expected congregation of half a million people in Phoenix Park.

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