Dublin, August 25: Pope Francis said at the start of a visit to Ireland Saturday that he shares the outrage of rank-and-file Catholics over the failure of church authorities to punish the “repugnant crimes” of priests who raped and molested children.
Seeking to respond to a global outcry over the abuse scandal, Francis cited measures taken by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to respond to the crisis. But Benedict never acknowledged the Vatican’s role in fueling a culture of cover-up, and Francis provided no new details of any measures he would take to sanction bishops who fail to protect their flocks.
“The failure of ecclesial authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share these sentiments,” the pope said in a speech to government and civil authorities at Dublin Castle.
Adding to his prepared remarks, Francis said he was committed to ridding the church of this “scourge” no matter the moral cost or amount of suffering. Francis trip has been overshadowed by renewed outrage over the Catholic Church’s systemic failures to protect children following revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up in the US church hierarchy, a growing crisis in Chile and prosecutions of top clerics in Australia and France.
Francis was expected to meet with victims during his 36-hour visit to Ireland. But neither his words at the start of his visit nor a new meeting with victims is likely to assuage demands for heads to roll over the scandal.
Perhaps in an indication of popular sentiments, the reception Francis received in Dublin contrasted sharply with the raucous, rock star welcome that greeted St. John Paul II in 1979. No one from the general public was on hand at the airport or the roads nearby, and only a handful of people waited to cheer him outside the Vatican residence, despite gloriously sunny weekend weather.
Deeply Catholic Ireland has had one of the world’s worst records of clergy sex abuse, crimes that were revealed to its 4.8 million people over the past decade by a series of government-mandated inquiries.
The reviews concluded that thousands of children were raped and molested by priests and physically abused in church-run schools, and exposed bishops who worked to hide the crimes.
After the Irish church atoned for its past and enacted tough new norms to fight abuse, it had been looking to the first visit by a pope in 40 years to show a different, more caring church that understands the problems of ordinary Catholic families today.