Pope expresses shame at church's failure to address 'repellent' abuse crimes

Pope Francis visit to Ireland – Day 1

"The failure of ecclesiastical authorities-bishops, religious superiors, priests and others-adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage", the pope told Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and other dignitaries gathered in Dublin Castle on Saturday.

He said his predecessor Pope Benedict's frank and decisive intervention incentivised efforts of the Church's leadership to remedy past mistakes and adopt stringent norms meant to ensure that they do not happen again.

He said: "We have voted in our parliament and by referendum to modernise our laws - understanding that marriages do not always work, that women should make their own decisions, and that families come in many different, wonderful forms - including those headed by a grandparent, lone parent or same-sex partners or parents who are divorced and remarried".

It is the first papal visit to the former bastion of Catholicism since Pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 1.5 million people in 1979.

In his first official speech of the apostolic voyage to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, the pope said he hopes the "failings of many" will underscore the importance of protecting children and vulnerable adults by all of society.

Varadkar, an openly gay leader and a symbol of Ireland's liberalising culture, demanded from Pope Francis "that from words flow actions" for victims in a strongly-worded speech.

The Amnesty director said Pope Francis could've been more direct with an apology to people and children abused by the Catholic church: "The Pope was speaking not to the faithful, it wasn't a sacramental moment it was a State occasion".

The pope was expected to meet with Irish victims of sexual abuse later in the day.

Francis' trip to Ireland, the first papal visit in 39 years, comes on the heels of a damning report released last week by a grand jury in Pennsylvania that found 300 Catholic priests across the state had abused more than 1,000 children in the past 70 years.

Pope Francis visit to Ireland – Day 1
Flags are flown from the plane carrying Pope Francis as it arrives at Dublin International Airport

The abuse scandal - which has exploded anew in the USA but has convulsed Ireland since the 1990s with revelations of unfathomable violence and humiliation against women and children - took centre stage on the first day of Francis' two-day trip.

But there will also be protests over the church's handling of multiple clerical sexual abuse scandals that have catastrophically damaged its moral authority and standing in Irish society.

He described abuse within the Church as "caca", literally translated "filth as one sees in the toilet", as his translator politely clarified.

On Sunday, the pontiff will fly to visit Knock Shrine - a Catholic pilgrimage site in County Mayo - before heading back to Dublin for a 3pm mass at Phoenix Park.

On Tuesday the grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a report that 300 Catholic priests across the USA state sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by church leaders.

It isalso "very possible" the Pope will publicly address the abuse topic during his visit, the Vatican's press office director, Greg Burke, said during a media briefing. "We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them".

Ireland is "the ground zero of Catholic clerical sex abuse", Irish journalist Paddy Agnew told NPR.

The pope later held an hour and a half meeting with victims of abuse at the hands of clergy or in Church-run institutions, including Marie Collins, who was, at the age of 13, abused by a priest while being treated in a hospital in Dublin.

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