Pope Francis said Wednesday that his recent meeting in Ireland with eight people who suffered sex abuse by figures in the Catholic Church left a “profound mark” on him, but suggested that the right measures were being put in place to ensure such abuse cannot happen again.
Addressing the child sex abuse scandal in Ireland at his weekly Vatican address, the Pope said he had “begged the Lord for forgiveness for these sins, the scandal and the sense of betrayal.”
His words came in the midst of a renewed wave of outrage regarding child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, and just three days after a visit to Ireland — a majority Catholic country — where he was met with protesters angry about the scandal and a smaller crowd of supporters than expected.
“My visit to Ireland, despite the great joy, also had to bear the pain and bitterness of the suffering caused in that country by various forms of abuse, even by members of the Church, and the fact that the Church authorities in the past have not always been able to adequately address these crimes,” the Pope said Wednesday.
He went on to express hope that this could change, saying that “the Irish bishops have undertaken a serious path of purification and reconciliation with those who have suffered abuse” and established “strict rules” that would ensure the safety of young people.
“In my meeting with the bishops, I encouraged them in their endeavors to remedy the failures of the past with honesty and courage,” he added.
But not everyone is convinced that the Catholic Church in Ireland is on the right path.
Marie Collins, one of the survivors of clerical abuse who met with the Pope, resigned last year from a special Vatican commission created by the pontiff to tackle child abuse, saying that senior clerics in the church refused to implement their suggested safety policies.
Speaking after the meeting with survivors, the Pope told journalists that, while he holds Collins in high regard, she is “fixated” on the idea of accountability tribunals.
Allegations of child sex abuse have dogged the Catholic Church for years, but Pope Francis has come under renewed pressure in recent weeks following damning reports detailing decades of institutional cover-ups in the United States, Chile and Australia.
Two weeks ago, a grand jury report was released alleging that hundreds of “predator priests” had abused children in the US state of Pennsylvania over the past seven decades.
The news triggered a global outcry and a slew of scathing allegations. Most recently, Pennsylvania’s attorney general said Tuesday that the Vatican knew about the cover-up and shielded its priests from law enforcement.
Responding to CNN on Tuesday, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican would need to learn more details about the evidence before commenting.
On Sunday, the Pope faced calls to resign from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, who claimed he told the pontiff about allegations of sexual abuse against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick five years ago, but the Pope did nothing about it.
McCarrick, 88, who once led the Archdiocese of Washington and was a force in American politics, resigned as cardinal last month after a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse of a teenage altar boy. The Pope also ordered McCarrick’s suspension from public ministry.
Asked to comment on Vigano’s claim on his flight back to Italy on Sunday, Pope Francis said, “I will not say a single word on this,” although he added that after some time passes, “I may speak.”