Catholic abuse scandal a 'cultural problem': Vatican

Pope Francis arrives on Saturday for his first visit to Ireland, a former bastion of Catholicism where abuse scandals have badly damaged the image of the Church

The sexual abuse scandal dogging the Catholic Church is the result of a "cultural problem" that will take time to remedy, the Vatican's chief spokesman told Irish broadcaster RTE on Friday.

Pope Francis is due to arrive in Ireland on Saturday for a historic two-day visit, but spokesman Greg Burke suggested that the church leader would not be announcing specific measures.

"It is a cultural problem and the church will take responsibility for that, the very grave sins," he said.

"I think in 36 hours -- or 32 hours on the ground -- it's hard to change a culture," he added.

"In terms of moving to actions -- that will happen. But it doesn't happen overnight.

"Let's first listen to the Pope, and that in itself is an important part of this."

The pontiff arrives Saturday for his first visit to this former bastion of Catholicism, which was last visited by a pope in 1979 when pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 1.5 million people.

A new generation has shed traditional mores and Ireland, which has a gay prime minister, has in recent years voted to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion -- both once unthinkable.

Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, said the visit would be marked by anxiety about the Church in Ireland.

"My hope is that Pope Francis will challenge the Church in Ireland to be different... in a culture that is different," the primate of Ireland said in his homily on Sunday.

"The pope has to speak frankly about our past but also about our future. We need a Church with confidence."