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In Ireland, Pope Francis apologizes for 'grave scandal'

  • Ireland-Pope-2

    Pope Francis prays next to the altar of the St. Mary Pro cathedral, in Dublin, Ireland, on Saturday.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Ireland-Pope-1

    Pope Francis prays inside St Mary's Pro Cathedral during his visit to Dublin, Ireland.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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DUBLIN — As Pope Francis’ motorcade emerged from a Dominican convent he was visiting on the outskirts of Dublin on Saturday, members of the small crowd were easily able to get right up to the street barricades to see him waving from his compact car.

While crowds were certainly thicker in the city center, there was nothing to compare it with the all-out enthusiasm that greeted the last pontiff to touch Irish soil nearly 40 years ago.

Or that greeted Pope Francis himself during his Philadelphia visit in 2015, which drew crowds several people thick at the barricades.

Even those who turned out Saturday to wave little yellow-and-white papal flags in his honor knew why there weren’t more among them.

“I thought it was lovely, but because of the way things are, you have to respect what people feel,” said Sharon Whelan, who joined other neighbors living near the papal route to cheer on the Pontiff.

She admires Francis, but like other Irish she has seen documentary after documentary about scandals within the church. About the sexual abuse of children by priests, about unwed mothers serving unofficial sentences of hard labor in laundries, of abuse in orphanages and other institutions.

“I have great faith in God, but I don’t have faith in the church, “ added Caroline Carrick.

Such sentiments have only been reinforced in Ireland with this month’s release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report citing wide-scale sexual abuse and coverup in six dioceses, including Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

So an undertone of melancholy surrounded Pope Francis’ arrival in Dublin on Saturday morning for the international gathering known as the World Meeting of Families. The conference, which occurs every three years and supports church teachings about the family, typically draws the Pope at its conclusion, as it did in Philadelphia in 2015.

His two-day visit is set to culminate with an open-air Mass before up to 500,000 people Sunday afternoon.

Like the partly sunny, partly cloudy skies above him Saturday, the visit by Francis had its upbeat moments amid the gloom.

As is his trademark, Francis made a point of greeting disabled people in the crowds. He visited the needy at a church social-service center. He spoke on family and forgiveness at a Saturday night festival that featured a 500-strong Riverdance cast performing traditional Irish steps.

But the elephant in the room was named early and often.

Francis was barely off the plane before offering an abject apology for the sexual abuse of children by priests and other scandals that have horrified an increasingly post-Catholic Ireland.

By day’s end he had met with victims whose very description lays out the stunningly vast landscape of woundedness in a country where traditionally so many institutions were run by the church.

Among them were those victimized in parishes and in church-run orphanages, schools, seminaries, and homes for unwed mothers and their children.

As he heard their stories, participants said, Pope Francis was visibly moved and even referred to those responsible as “caca,” a blunt word for excrement in Francis’ native Spanish.

Earlier at Dublin Castle, the Irish government’s seat of power, he said he “cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education.”

He added: “The failure of ecclesiastical authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - 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 these sentiments.”

Members of the international group Ending Clergy Abuse said in an evening news conference they were experiencing “apology fatigue” from popes.

What they want is action.

Peter Isely of Wisconsin said that wIth a “stroke of a pen” Francis could implement a zero-tolerance policy for abusive priests throughout the world.

Currently, only in the United States must an abuser be banned from ministry for a single offense under church law. That resulted from special Vatican action following the “Spotlight” revelations of abuse in Boston and elsewhere in 2002.

Also, the Pope could ban all bishops and cardinals who cover up abuse, Mr. Isely said.

Survivors weren’t the only critics of the Pope.

Protesters in spots around Dublin called for the church to accept gay marriage and female priests.

This is the first visit to Irish soil in nearly four decades by any pope, and the first up-close chance to let a pope know what they think about things.

When St. John Paul II came here in 1979, the country overwhelmingly turned out in a display of closely fused Irish and Catholic identity.

All the scandals were in the future.

So too were referendums legalizing divorce, gay marriage, and most recently abortion.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Peter Smith is religion editor for the Post-Gazette. Contact him at: petersmith@post-gazette.com.

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