, Dublin, Ireland, Aug 25 – Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Saturday urged Pope Francis to take action to ensure justice for abuse victims worldwide as the pontiff admitted a “failure” by Church authorities in dealing with the scandals during a historic visit to Ireland.
In a strongly-worded speech, Varadkar, an openly gay leader and a symbol of Ireland’s liberalising culture, demanded from Pope Francis “that from words flow actions” for abuse victims.
Speaking to an audience in Dublin Castle alongside the pope, Varadkar said Ireland’s multiple historic scandals were “stains on our state, our society and also the Church.”
“Far too often there was judgement, severity and cruelty… people kept in dark corners, behind closed doors, cries for help that went unheard,” he added.
“There is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors. Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure that this is done here in Ireland and across the world.”
Francis responded, saying that the “failure of ecclesiastical authorities… adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.
“I myself share those sentiments,” he added.
But Marie Collins, who resigned from a Vatican commission on child protection last year over its inaction, was dismissive of the speech, telling reporters it was “disappointing, nothing new”.
Collins, now 71, was abused by a priest as a 13-year-old girl while she was being treated in a hospital in Dublin.
– First papal visit since 1979 –
Under cloudless skies, the pope’s “Shepherd One” plane touched down in the Irish capital in the mid-morning.
It was the first time a pope had set foot in the former bastion of Catholicism since pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 1.5 million people during a visit in 1979.
As he left the airport, supporters rang bells and waved banners reading “We Heart The Pope” and “Pope Francis, Together We Love You Forever”.
In Dublin, tens of thousands of people lined the streets to cheer him on as the Popemobile made its way from St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, where he gave marriage advice to couples, to a hostel for homeless families.
In the church, the pope had spent two minutes praying in silence in front of a candle commemorating abuse victims.
“The Church has gone through a lot in the last few years,” Anne-Marie Dean, 47, from Dublin, said of the visit.
A new generation has shed Ireland’s traditional mores, electing Ireland’s first gay prime minister and voting to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion — both once unthinkable.
During his speech, the pope touched on May’s referendum in which Ireland voted by a landslide to ditch its strict abortion laws.
“Could it be that the growth of a materialistic ‘throwaway culture’ has, in fact, made us increasingly indifferent to the poor and to the most defenceless members of our human family, including the unborn?” he asked.
Earlier this month, the Vatican was rocked by a devastating US report accused more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania state of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.
The pope wrote a letter to the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics vowing to prevent future “atrocities” but also conceding that no efforts “to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient”.
– ‘Mandatory reporting’ –
Ireland has grappled with its own history of abuse, with multiple probes finding Church leaders protected hundreds of predatory priests over the decades.
Former Irish president Mary McAleese revealed this month she challenged Vatican attempts in 2003 to keep Church documents inaccessible to government investigators.
The Argentine pontiff is in Ireland to close the 2018 World Meeting of Families (WMOF) — a global Catholic gathering that takes place every three years.
He will also give a speech at Croke Park stadium on Saturday and is due to meet with abuse victims.
The highlight of the trip will be an outdoor mass in the city’s Phoenix Park on Sunday, which is expected to draw 500,000 people.
Priests and nuns from across Ireland have flocked to the capital, although merchandise sellers said business was sluggish.
“Local people are not spending,” said street vendor Tony Mooney, 67. “There’s an awful lot of not nice things being said to us.”
– ‘Still in denial’ –
Victims of clergy abuse and their supporters will hold a “Stand for Truth” demonstration in Dublin during the Sunday mass.
In Tuam, a town in western Ireland, a silent vigil was planned for Sunday in solidarity with victims of “mother and baby” homes — institutions accused of being punishment hostels for unwed pregnant women.
“Significant quantities” of baby remains found in makeshift graves at the site of one such home in Tuam last year shocked the country.
In Dublin, Richard Duffy, 31, said he was opposed to the visit, telling AFP “it just boggles my mind that there’s a celebration for him coming here.”
“They’re still in denial and refusing to admit any fault,” he added.