By Christopher Lamb in Dublin
Pope Francis compared the cover-up of widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church to ‘toilet filth’ as he used his first day in Ireland to meet with sexual abuse victims and pledged to eliminate the “scourge” of abuse.
On early Saturday evening, Francis spent 90 minutes with eight survivors including those who had been abused by priests and those who suffered appalling treatment inside Catholic-run institutions.
Among those included at the meeting was two people forcibly separated from their parents by a Church-run home.
Clodagh Malone and Paul Redmond said the meeting had been “cordial and polite” and that Francis described abuse in the Church as “caca.”
“Pope Francis condemned corruption and cover-up within the church as ‘caca,’ ” they said in a statement. “Literally filth as one sees in a toilet, his translator clarified.”
‘Caca’ literally translates from Spanish as ‘excrement’.
Ireland is the Ground Zero of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, a crisis that has severely damaged the Church’s credibility in the country. The 81-year-old Pontiff’s visit comes days after a Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania detailed the molestation of at least 1,000 children by priests and a widespread cover-up of the crimes by bishops.
Within moments of stepping off his plane at Dublin airport on Saturday morning, the Pope was met by Ireland’s Minister for Childhood, Katherine Zappone, who raised the harrowing plight of the Tuam babies, a mass grave discovered at a Church-run “mother and baby” home.
“The words said to me at the airport by the Minister for Childhood still ring in my ears,” the Pope said during a speech at Dublin Castle in front of the country’s prime minister, adding he wanted a “greater commitment” from the Church to rid itself of abuse “at any cost”.
Francis said the abuse was a “grave scandal” and expressed shame over Church leaders had failed in their response to crimes of priests by covering them up.
“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community,”
During his speech at Dublin Castle the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, urged the Pope to “use your office” to bring justice, truth, and healing to survivors of abuse.
“In recent weeks, we have all listened to heart-breaking 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,” the Taoiseach said. “It is a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland.”
He described abuse by institutions in Ireland – such as the Magdalene Laundries where single mothers forced into slave labour – and clerical child abuse are stains on our State, our society and also the Catholic Church.
Mr Varadkar, who is openly gay, emphasised to the Pope how much Ireland had changed in recent years by changing its laws allowing for gay marriage and divorce.
He pointed out to Francis – who travelled to Dublin to attend an international gathering of families – that “families come in many forms” including those with “same-sex” parents.
“The Ireland of the 21st century is a very different place today than it was in the past,” he underlined.
The Taoiseach said he wanted to “build a new relationship” with the Church, one where Catholicism is fewer domains and where there is space for other faiths.
Francis, who has focussed his pontificate on the poor and marginalised, spent part of this afternoon at a homeless centre run by Capuchin Friars and stopped his popemobile to pray at the shrine of Catholic sainthood candidate, Matt Talbot, an ex-alcoholic renowned for charitable work.
And on Saturday evening, the Pope took part in an event to celebrate families which included performances from Andrea Bocelli and musical singing trio “The Priests.”
But if the Church is to forge a new role in Ireland, restoring its credibility will be key. Among the abuse survivors meeting the Pope, this evening included Marie Collins, who resigned from a papal child protection commission in frustration at the slow pace of reform.
“Disappointing, nothing new,” was her response to Francis’ speech.
Tomorrow, the final day of his Ireland trip, the Pope will visit the shrine of Knock, in County Mayo, and will say Mass in Phoenix Park, Dublin.