The Pope vowed to pursue justice for victims of church abuse in Ireland as he ended his historic visit to the country by seeking forgiveness for its dark litany of clerical crimes.
Addressing a large crowd of pilgrims at an open air Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, Francis laid bare the many forms of abuse and mistreatment meted out to children and vulnerable adults in past decades.
Seeking forgiveness for each scandal in turn, the pontiff also acknowledged members of the church’s hierarchy had also sought to cover up the sins of colleagues and failed to show compassion for the victims.
“We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church,” he said.
The legacy of church abuse cast a long shadow over the first papal visit to Ireland since 1979, as the pontiff repeatedly moved to address the scandals.
His words drew praise in some quarters but others accused the Pope of not going far enough.
An aerial view of the crowd at Phoenix Park (Liam McBurney/PA)
A total of 500,000 tickets were snapped up for the Phoenix Park Mass but the actual crowd appeared significantly smaller.
The awful weather, widespread travel restrictions and long walking distance to the venue were all likely factors, but some who compared it with the massive crowds who greeted John Paul II four decades previously suggested it was also a sign of the church’s waning influence in Ireland.
As the Pope’s plea for forgiveness rang out around the park on Sunday afternoon, elsewhere in Dublin abuse survivors and campaigners protested at his visit.
A vigil was also held at the site of the mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, where a mass grave containing around 800 babies not afforded proper burials was recently uncovered.
Praying for the strength to achieve truth and justice for the victims, the Pope referred to his private meeting with eight abuse survivors on Saturday evening, explaining that he wanted to take up what they had said to him.
“In a special way, we ask pardon for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions run by males or female religious and by other members of the church, and we ask for forgiveness for those cases of manual work that so many young women and men were subjected to,” he said.
“We ask forgiveness.”
People gather to protest at the site of the former Tuam home for unmarried mothers in County Galway (Niall Carson/PA)
The Pope told the pilgrims who braved the rain to reach Phoenix Park: “We ask forgiveness for the times that, as a church, we did not show the survivors of whatever kind of abuse the compassion and the seeking of justice and truth through concrete actions. We ask for forgiveness.
“We ask for forgiveness for some of the church hierarchy who did not take charge of these situations and kept quiet. We ask for forgiveness.
“We ask for forgiveness for all those times in which many single mothers were told that to seek their children who had been separated from them, and the same being said to daughters and sons themselves, that this was a mortal sin. This is not a mortal sin. We ask for forgiveness.”
The pontiff ended the prayer by asking: “Give us the strength to work for justice. Amen.”
His remarks were met with applause by the crowd.
The Papal Mass in Dublin came hours after the Pope called for firm action in pursuing justice for church abuse victims.
On the second day of his weekend visit, he said the crimes committed by members of the church had left an “open wound”.
Pope Francis during a visit to Knock Holy Shrine, in Co Mayo (Niall Carson/PA)
At an address at the holy shrine of Knock, in Co Mayo, he said no-one could fail to be moved by stories of young abuse victims who were “robbed of their innocence” and left with “painful memories”.
Thousands who came to see the Pope at a site revered by Irish Catholics applauded as he urged decisive steps to bring truth to the victims.
“I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family,” he said.
Before departing Dublin for his flight home, the Pope held a short meeting with a number of Irish bishops.
He told them the scandals had also caused “hurt and discouragement” to current members of the priesthood, something he said was often “ignored or underestimated”.
“A recurrent theme of my visit, of course, has been the Church’s need to acknowledge and remedy, with evangelical honesty and courage, past failures with regard to the protection of children and vulnerable adults,” he said.
He said the bishops had “resolutely moved forward” with steps to better safeguard children within the Church.
“In these years, all of us have had our eyes opened to the gravity and extent of sexual abuse in various social settings,” he added.
“In Ireland, as elsewhere, the honesty and integrity with which the Church chooses to confront this painful chapter of her history can offer an example and a warning to society as a whole.”
Abuse survivor Marie Collins said Pope Francis was ‘very frank’ at the meeting (Brian Lawless/PA)
The first day of the papal visit on Saturday was also dominated by the painful reverberations of historical scandals linked to church abuse and mistreatment.
On Saturday evening, the Pope met a number of victims of criminality and cruelty inflicted by church members.
The private engagement in Dublin came hours after Francis expressed “pain and shame” over failures to tackle the scandals.
Some of the survivors who attended the behind-closed-doors meeting said the pontiff employed blunter language with them, apparently using the Spanish word “caca”, Spanish for excrement, to describe those who covered up abuse.
Abuse survivor Marie Collins, who was at the meeting, said: “He was very frank, he listened to us all and he gave us all an opportunity to talk about our experiences.”
– Press Association