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Dublin - 25 August 2018
1. SOUNDBITE (Italian) Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church:
"I am well aware of the circumstances of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters – I think especially about women and children who endured particularly difficult situations in the past, and about the then orphans. With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by abuses of minors by members of the Church tasked with protecting and educating them. The words said to me at the airport by the minister of infancy resonate in my heart. Thank you for those words. The failure of ecclesial authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share these sentiments. My predecessor, Pope Benedict, spared no words in recognizing both the gravity of the situation and in demanding that 'truly evangelical, just and effective' measures be taken in response to this betrayal of trust (cf. Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, 10). His frank and decisive intervention continues to serve as an incentive for the efforts of the Church's leadership both to remedy past mistakes and to adopt stringent norms aimed at ensuring they do not happen again. More recently, in a Letter to the People of God, I reiterated this commitment, or rather a greater commitment to eliminating this scourge in the Church, no matter the moral cost or amount of suffering."
Pope Francis said at the start of a visit to Ireland on Saturday that he shares the outrage of rank-and-file Catholics over the failure of church authorities to punish the "repugnant crimes" of priests who raped and molested children.
Seeking to respond to a global outcry over the abuse scandal, Francis cited measures taken by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to respond to the crisis.
But Benedict never acknowledged the Vatican's role in fueling a culture of cover-up, and Francis provided no new details of any measures he would take to sanction bishops who fail to protect their flocks.
"The failure of ecclesial authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.
I myself share these sentiments," the pope said in a speech to government and civil authorities at Dublin Castle.
Adding to his prepared remarks, Francis said he was committed to ridding the church of this "scourge" no matter the moral cost or amount of suffering.
Francis trip has been overshadowed by renewed outrage over the Catholic Church's systemic failures to protect children following revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up in the US church hierarchy, a growing crisis in Chile and prosecutions of top clerics in Australia and France.
Francis was expected to meet with victims during his 36-hour visit to Ireland.
But neither his words at the start of his visit nor a new meeting with victims is likely to assuage demands for heads to roll over the scandal.
Perhaps in an indication of popular sentiments, the reception Francis received in Dublin contrasted sharply with the raucous, rock star welcome that greeted St. John Paul II in 1979.
No one from the general public was on hand at the airport or the roads nearby, and only a handful of people waited to cheer him outside the Vatican residence, despite gloriously sunny weekend weather.
Deeply Catholic Ireland has had one of the world's worst records of clergy sex abuse, crimes that were revealed to its 4.8 million people over the past decade by a series of government-mandated inquiries.
The reviews concluded that thousands of children were raped and molested by priests and physically abused in church-run schools, and exposed bishops who worked to hide the crimes.
After the Irish church atoned for its past and enacted tough new norms to fight abuse, it had been looking to the first visit by a pope in 40 years to show a different, more caring church that understands the problems of ordinary Catholic families today.
More than 37,000 people - most of them young Catholics - signed up to attend a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families that ends Sunday in Dublin, more than twice the number as for the previous family rally held in Philadelphia three years ago.
And many faithful remained hopeful that Francis' appearance would bring healing.
Francis urged the Irish to recognize that for all its failings, the Catholic Church has educated and cared for generations of Irish children in times of famine and great poverty, when no one else would.
But Ireland's tortured history of abuse has left its mark.
In a country where Catholic bishops held such sway that they advised the drafters of the republic's constitution in the 1930s, voters in recent years have turned their backs on core Catholic teachings.
They have overturned a constitutional ban on abortion, and legalized divorce, contraception, previously banned homosexual acts and same-sex marriage.
Irish abuse victims and their supporters were to hold a solidarity rally Sunday in Dublin at the same time Francis is celebrating his final Mass to close out the rally.
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