Pope Francis vows to end ‘scourge’ of sex abuse, victims call remarks ‘disappointing’

Credit: Joe Giddens

Credit: Joe Giddens

Pope Francis expressed outrage over the cover-up of “repugnant crimes” of Catholic priests who raped and molested children and vowed to end the “scourge” as he arrived in Ireland Saturday.

The Argentine pope addressed the worldwide outrage in his opening remarks to political leaders and dignitaries at Dublin Castle, the BBC reported.

“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,” the pope said. “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.”

Credit: Stefano Rellandini

Credit: Stefano Rellandini

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His statements echoed a letter he sent to the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics earlier this week, in which he condemned the "atrocities" of child sex abuse and clerical cover-up.

Francis met with eight victims of sex abuse at the hands of priests during his 36-hour trip through Ireland on Saturday.

While Francis condemned the acts of abusive priests, he provided no new details about what measures the Catholic Church will take to sanction bishops who fail to report predator priests.

Marie Collins, a former member of Francis’ sex abuse advisory panel and clergy sex abuse survivor, said Saturday that the pope’s statements were “disappointing, nothing new.”

Collins is one of the victims Francis spoke with on Saturday, according to the Vatican.

This is Pope Francis’ first visit to the predominantly Catholic country, marking the first visit from a pope in 39 years.

His reception in Dublin contrasted sharply with the rock-star welcome John Paul II received in 1979, when over a million people greeted him at his welcoming mass. About 500,000 are expected to turn out to see Francis.

According to the Associated Press, no one from the public was at the airport or roads nearby to greet Pope Francis as he arrived, although some crowds gathered to welcome him as he rode in the popemobile along the streets of Dublin Saturday.

Credit: Aaron Chown

Credit: Aaron Chown

Ireland has one of the world’s worst records of Catholic clergy sex abuse, the Associated Press finds. A government report found that thousands of children were raped and molested by priests or physically abused in church-run schools for decades. The report found that bishops in Ireland worked to cover up the crimes for years.

“The church in Ireland, past and present, has played a role in the welfare of children that cannot be obscured,” Francis said. “It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast light on the failings of so many, will serve to emphasize the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar echoed those sentiments but urged the pope to protect victims of sex abuse and help them “find justice, truth and healing.”

Varadkar cited a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children over 70 years in six dioceses.

The true number of victims is believed to be much higher, due to the lack of proper reporting or victims struggling to come forward.

“In recent weeks, we have all listened to heartbreaking stories from Pennsylvania of brutal crimes perpetrated by people within the Catholic Church, and then obscured to protect the institution at the expense of innocent victims,” Varadkar said. “It's a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland.”

Since the 1980s, the Catholic Church has paid out more than $3.8 billion in lawsuits amid claims of clerical child abuse in the United States, according to a new report from the monitoring group BishopAccountability.

The report found millions of dollars in payouts for complaints nationwide, in states including Kentucky, Oregon, Delaware, Alaska, Washington, Iowa, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Vermont, Connecticut, Arizona, Rhode Island, New Jersey, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, New York, Florida and Illinois.

The group published a detailed list naming some of the largest settlements from the church.

Some of the settlements included non-monetary demands, like setting up a toll-free hotline for victims to report clergy, along with the creation of victim assistance programs.

Irish abuse victims and their supporters plan to hold a solidarity rally Sunday in Dublin while Francis is expected to celebrate his final mass in Ireland.

Survivors of Ireland’s “mother and baby homes,” where children were exiled for being born to unwed mothers, plan to hold a separate demonstration on Sunday at the site of a mass grave where hundreds of babies were buried at a Catholic Church-run home.

Credit: Niall Carson

Credit: Niall Carson

Francis will be nearby, visiting the Marian shrine at Knock, but has no plans to visit the gravesite.

Francis briefly mentioned the plight of generations of Irish women forced to work in laundries and other workhouses because they got pregnant outside of marriage, but he only said the mothers and children sent to orphanages “endured particularly difficult situations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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