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'It needs to be more than sorry': Archbishop wants Pope to meet abuse victims during Irish visit

The comments from the Church come ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland next week.

Updated Aug 17th 2018, 9:08 AM

THE PRIMATE OF All-Ireland has said that he would like to think that Pope Francis will meet survivors of abuse when he visits Ireland next week, as part of efforts to reach out and apologise for the actions of members of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Eamon Martin made the comments to the BBC’s Mark Simpson ahead of the World Meeting of Families, where Pope Francis will say mass in the Phoenix Park, as well as making a speech at Croke Park.

It also comes after a Vatican statement, which expressed “shame and sorrow” for the US scandal where a report this week uncovered more than 1,000 victims of abuse from members of the Catholic Church.

Martin, the archbishop of Armagh, said that expects Pope Francis to “reach out” when he comes to Ireland.

“He will try to express the grave sorrow of the church,” he said. “But I think people want more than that.

He will want to express the church’s commitment that if a member of your family is involved in an activity with the church, they will be as safe there as in their own home.

Martin added that he’d “like to think” that the Pope will meet survivors of abuse and address this issue in a meaningful way during his Irish visit.

He said: “If he expresses an apology, it needs to be more than sorry. We need to demonstrate we are committed to the wellbeing of children and young people and vulnerable adults who comes within our churches.”

An estimated half a million people are expected to attend mass at the Phoenix Park, almost 40 years after over a million were in attendance for a mass with Pope John Paul II in 1979.

Earlier this week, the Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said the Pope’s visit is a crossroads moment for the Church to acknowledge its past, good and bad, and added it was necessary to recognise the dark aspects of its history.

‘Shame and sorrow’

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side,” the Vatican said in a statement after a devastating US grand jury report published on Tuesday decried a systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church.

“Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent,” the  Vatican statement went on.

Italy: Pope Francis Leads In Rome's Circus Maximus An Evening Prayer Vigil With Youths Source: Nurphoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

“There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” it said.

The Vatican statement added that the church needed to learn “hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur”.

The report is thought to be the most comprehensive to date into abuse in the US church, since The Boston Globe first exposed paedophile priests in Massachusetts in 2002.

But while Tuesday’s report led to charges against two priests, one of whom has pleaded guilty, the majority of those responsible are dead and the vast majority of crimes happened too long ago to prosecute, officials said.

The two-year investigation by a grand jury into all but two Pennsylvania dioceses turned up dozens of witnesses and half a million pages of church records containing “credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests.”

More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable, but the “real number” was “in the thousands,” the grand jury estimated.

Hidden for decades

Victims were often traumatised for life, driven to drugs, alcohol and suicide, the grand jury said. The only recourse was to recommend changes to the law and expose what had happened to make sure such widespread abuse was never repeated.

So far only two new priests are being charged with crimes that fall within the statute of limitations.

The grand jury called for changes in the law that would scrap the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, give victims more time to file civil lawsuits and tighten legislation compelling people to report abuse they find out about.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the report said.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

Church elders were instead promoted and predator priests allowed to remain in ministries for 10, 20, even 40 years after leaders learned of their crimes as the list of victims got longer and longer, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

Between 5,700 and 10,000 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, but only a few hundred have been tried, convicted, and sentenced for their crimes, according to the watchdog Bishop Accountability.

Since the abuse crisis became public in the 2000s, the US church has spent more than $3 billion in settlements, according to Bishop Accountability.

One estimate suggests up there were 100,000 US victims.

‘Zero tolerance’

Francis was elected in 2013 and vowed to take a “zero tolerance” approach to clerical sex abuse and rid the Church of the scourge of paedophilia, which has done enormous damage to its standing in many countries.

But his credibility on the issue has been hit by a series of missteps and victims’ organisations maintain that the Church remains reluctant to hand paedophile priests over to criminal justice authorities.

Francis has compared sex abuse by priests to participating in a “Satanic Mass”, but he has also been accused of being too soft on paedophiles, extending to them a general policy of mercy he is promoting in the Roman Catholic Church.

There are widespread accusations that the Catholic Church ignored and covered up child abuse in other countries such as Australia and Chile.

With reporting from AFP

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Sean Murray

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