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Pope Ireland visit: Pontiff asks God's forgiveness for clerical child sex abuse during visit to Catholic shrine in Knock

Addressing pilgrims, Pope Francis calls for action to secure justice before telling crowds at open air Mass that church leaders were guilty of cover-ups

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 26 August 2018 18:15 BST
Hundreds of people, some of whom arrived as early as 6am, could be seen wearing waterproof ponchos and holding umbrellas at Knock in Co Mayo ahead of the Pope's arrival
Hundreds of people, some of whom arrived as early as 6am, could be seen wearing waterproof ponchos and holding umbrellas at Knock in Co Mayo ahead of the Pope's arrival (Reuters)

The Pope has begged for God’s forgiveness for the “open wound” of church abuse in Ireland as he addressed pilgrims at a Catholic shrine on the second day of his historic visit to the country.

Praying for the strength to achieve justice for the victims, he later told a large crowd at an open air Mass in Dublin that the church hierarchy had been guilty of cover-ups and failing to show compassion.

The second day of the pontiff’s visit began early on Sunday with a pilgrimage to the National Marian Shrine in Knock, Co Mayo, which is said to be the site of an apparition seen by 15 people in 1879.

At his address at the Catholic shrine, the Pope called for “firm and decisive” action to secure “truth and justice”, saying no one could be failed to be moved by stories of young abuse victims who were “robbed of their innocence”.

“This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. 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.

“I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”

A congregation of approximately 500,000 people gathered in Phoenix Park for the closing mass of the visit of Pope Francis (Getty)

Tens of thousands of people then flocked to the papal Mass in Phoenix Park, the largest outdoor event taking place in Europe this year, where the Pope asked for forgiveness for the crimes of church figures in Ireland.

Praying for the strength to achieve justice for the victims,he referred to a private meeting he held with eight abuse survivors on Saturday, explaining that he wanted to take up what they had said to him.

“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.

“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. We ask forgiveness.”

A vigil for the victims 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.

The religious engagements followed a day dominated by the bitter legacy of historic scandals linked to church abuse and mistreatment in Ireland.

On Saturday, the Pope spoke of his “pain and shame” at the failure of church authorities to tackle what he described as the “grave scandal” of clerical sex abuse in Ireland.

Speaking at Dublin Castle, he acknowledged that bishops, priests and other figures in the Catholic Church had failed to adequately address the “repellent” crimes that had been inflicted on young people.

Pope Francis then met a number of victims of criminality and cruelty inflicted by church members, and prayed for them at a candle perpetually lit in tribute to victims of abuse at Dublin cathedral.

His decision to address the dark legacy of abuse in a speech in Dublin Castle drew praise in some quarters, but others criticised him for not saying enough or offering a public apology.

While the Pope received a warm reception from thousands of people, his visit has sparked a number of protests over the church’s handling of various clerical abuse scandals, as well as its attitude towards women and the LGBT+ community.

One protest took place near Dublin Castle shortly after the pontiff arrived in the city on Saturday morning. It was organised by Margaret McGuckin, a survivor of historic child abuse who spent years in Nazareth House children’s home and helped campaign for the introduction of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

During the first day of his whistle-stop tour, the Pope also visited homeless people who receive support from a centre run by the Capuchin Fathers’ religious order.

Ireland has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit in 1979, when John Paul II was lauded by a nation shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.

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