Pope Francis begs forgiveness for the ‘betrayal’ of Church abuse
- On the first papal visit to Ireland in almost four decades, Francis met privately 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 U.S. cardinal for five years before accepting his resignation last month.
Pope Francis on Sunday asked for forgiveness for the “scandal and betrayal” felt by victims of sexual exploitation by Catholic clergy as he toured Ireland where years of abuse scandals have shattered the Church’s former dominant role in society.
On the first papal visit to Ireland in almost four decades, Francis met privately 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 U.S. 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 the Vatican.
The declining 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.
Still, up to 500,000 were expected to flock from all over the country to watch Francis end his visit by saying mass at Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
“Given the way things are with so many young peoples’ faiths – a lot are not coming to mass because of the abuse – hopefully Pope Francis can draw them back in again,” said Celine Hill, 57, who woke up at 0300 local time to travel from Portstewart in Northern Ireland to see the pope with her husband, Kieran.
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.
At Knock, Francis also condemned the treatment by Catholic religious orders of children who were “distanced from their mothers, abandoned and left with painful memories,” an apparent reference to homes for unmarried mothers that operated until the 1990s, where many babies were separated from their mothers.
During the 20th century tens of thousands of unmarried pregnant women, including rape victims, were sent to give birth at so-called mother-and-baby homes. Many of the children were adopted and during the 1930s-1950s the mortality rate for the “illegitimate” children was far higher than that for those born to married parents.
Some who turned out on a misty morning in the village, 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.
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