Francis addresses ‘repellent crimes’
Pope Francis said Saturday that the “failure of ecclesiastical authorities” to address sexual abuse has “rightly given rise to outrage,” his first acknowledgment during his trip to Ireland of the traumas here that have radically diminished the Roman Catholic clergy’s once-towering authority.
In an address at Dublin Castle, Francis described the “repellent crimes” and the failure to deal with them as “a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.” But he did not discuss concrete changes in laws or transparency or address the question of the Vatican’s complicity in the abuse cases.
“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,” Francis told a room filled with members of the Irish government, other lawmakers and diplomats.
Francis is visiting Ireland for the World Meet- ing of Families, a onceevery-three-years gathering intended by the Vatican to strengthen family bonds. But his trip is being dominated by the issue of sexual abuse – both the decades-long legacy of church-linked crimes in Ireland and a string of recent bruising revelations about priests and prelates across the world.
The Vatican said Saturday that Francis also met for 90 minutes with a group of eight survivors who had experienced abuse in a range of church-run institutions. It did not release details about the meeting, but the gathering included Marie Collins, a former member of Francis’ advisory commission on sexual abuse who resigned last year citing frustrations with internal Vatican opposition to reforms.
At a panel discussion Friday, Collins called for the church to adopt a policy of immediately removing any priest found to have committed abuse.
“Sadly, more often canon law has been used to protect the abuser than punish him,” Collins said.
The trip is Francis’ most direct encounter yet with the ramifications of abuse scandals and is expected to test whether he can begin to rebuild the church’s standing in a country where Catholicism was once the social and religious bedrock. Some Irish Catholics have said they want the pope to ask forgiveness for the Vatican’s role in facilitat- ing the coverup of sexual crimes. Others say he will be hard-pressed to regain the trust damaged by several governmentbacked inquiries into abuses in dioceses and other church-run institutions.
Mark Vincent Healy, an Irish victim of clerical abuse, said Francis’ speech to begin the trip was “empty – really empty.”
“I was with a group of survivors, and they were all upset with the statements as being ineffectual,” he said.
The first papal visit to Ireland in 39 years was also a marker of how secularization and feelings of betrayal have accelerated a move away from the church. In 1979, Pope John Paul II was greeted over several days by an estimated 2.7 million people. Francis, as he toured Dublin in his popemobile Saturday, drew crowds of people cheering and waving yellow and white Vatican City flags. But the city did not come to a standstill, and many Dubliners continued with their routines, meeting in pubs, doing laundry, watching bits and pieces of the pope’s visit on television.
At Croke Park Park Stadium, where Francis was scheduled to address a crowd attending the Festival for Families on Saturday evening, papal merchandise was selling at discount prices.