Pope Francis acknowledged the 'grave scandal' of sex abuse while Ireland's PM told him to 'listen to victims'.

Pope Francis has met victims of abuse and mistreatment in Ireland, telling them that those who abuse children were the equivalent of human excrement, said the Daily Mail.

He spent 90 minutes speaking with eight Irish survivors of clerical, religious and institutional abuse during the first papal visit to Ireland since 1979, and described those who mistreated children as "caca" or "s***".

Two of those at the meeting, who had been separated by force from their mothers as babies at church-run institutional homes, said in a statement: "Pope Francis condemned corruption and cover up within the church as "caca"."

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The head of Ireland's Catholic church, Eamon Martin (pictured centre) said the Pope was facing an 'impossible task' to address grievances over historic sexual abuse. Photo / Getty Images
The head of Ireland's Catholic church, Eamon Martin (pictured centre) said the Pope was facing an 'impossible task' to address grievances over historic sexual abuse. Photo / Getty Images

Pope Francis spoke with the group before attending a Festival of Families celebration this evening at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, where he received a standing ovation after telling the 82,500-strong crowd that 'to hate is human, to forgive is divine".

The pontiff was greeted by enthusiastic nuns hoisting papal flags and performing Mexican waves at the event, where he stressed the importance of family, and warned people of the 'threat' social media poses to relationships.

He said social media should 'never become a threat to the real life relationships by imprisoning us in a virtual reality and isolating us from the very real relationships that challenge us to grow.

"When you use social media too much you go into a sort of an orbit when, at the dinner table, instead of talking to each other within the family, each of you uses his phone to connect with the outside world.

"You go into an orbit. This is dangerous. Why? Because it takes away the completeness of the family and... takes us to a fuzzy life without any substance."

The evening included a performance of Riverdance by 500 children from dance schools around Ireland, and entertainment from local and international artists – joined by an orchestra of more than 50 musicians – including Andrea Bocelli.

The two-hour-long festival was choreographed as a celebration of family life, featuring music, song, dance, and spoken word.

The pope arrived at Croke Park for the mammoth festival flanked by burly bodyguards, after spending 90 minutes speaking with eight Irish survivors of abuse. The private meeting was hosted at the Papal Nuncio's residence in Dublin, hours after he acknowledged that Irish people had a right to be outraged by the church's response to the crimes.

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The enthusiastic crowd's standing ovation rounded off the pope's first day in Ireland, which has seen him speak of his "pain and shame' at the "grave scandal' of clerical sex abuse amid protests over the Catholic Church scandal – as thousands of admirers crowded the streets of Dublin to wave and watch him go by in his custom-made Popemobile.

The pope blessed those present, and praised the Capuchin monks running the centre, saying: 'They help you without taking away your dignity'. Photo / Getty Images
The pope blessed those present, and praised the Capuchin monks running the centre, saying: 'They help you without taking away your dignity'. Photo / Getty Images

The pontiff said victims had a right to be outraged at the "repellent crimes" against young people, while Ireland's prime minister Leo Varadkar urged him to 'listen to the victims", saying the history of abuse had left a legacy of "sorrow and shame".

The Vatican says Pope Francis has met with eight survivors of clerical and institutional abuse on the first day of his trip to Ireland, which is ground zero for the Catholic Church's abuse scandal.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Francis met with the group for about 90 minutes this evening. Among the victims was Marie Collins, a prominent survivor who served on Francis' advisory board but quit in frustration last year. She has since become a harsh critic of the Vatican, and occasionally the pope.

The 81-year-old landed in Dublin this morning on an Alitalia flight from Rome – flying with the call sign 'Shepherd One' – to begin the first visit by a Pope to Ireland since John Paul II visited in 1979.

He greeted a country where Catholic loyalties are declining and which recently distanced itself further from the Vatican's teaching with a referendum vote to legalise abortion, three years after similar backing for same-sex marriage. This afternoon he met Ireland's first gay prime minister.

Tens of thousands gathered in Dublin as he passed through in his Popemobile, a Skoda Rapid model, waving and smiling to the crowds on Dame Street. But demonstrators also assembled around the city to protest against clerical crimes, amid a row over the Vatican's response to similar claims of institutional abuse in America.

Speaking at St Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle, the Pope said: "With regard to the most vulnerable, I 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 said.

"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 those sentiments."

"It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast light on the failings of many, will serve to emphasise the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole," he said.

He also praised his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for tackling the issue, saying: "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 meant to ensure that they do not happen again."

Mr Varadkar said he hoped the papal visit would mark a 'new chapter' in Ireland's relationship with the Catholic Church.

In his speech to the pope at Dublin Castle, he said both church and state had a history of "sorrow and shame," and he urged the pope to ensure that victims of sex abuse find "justice and truth and healing".

Varadkar cited the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children over 70 years in six dioceses, in urging Francis to "ensure that from words flow actions".

"In recent weeks, we have all listened to heart-breaking stories from Pennsylvania of brutal crimes perpetrated by people within the Catholic Church, and then obscured to protect the institution at the expense of innocent victims,' Varadkar said. 'It's a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland."

The taoiseach added: 'The Ireland of the 21st century is a very different place today than it was in the past. Ireland is increasingly diverse.

"One in six of us were not born here and there are more and more people who adhere to other faiths, or who are comfortable in declaring that they subscribe to no organised religion.

Pope John Paul II, Francis's predecessor-but-one, waves from his plane as he leaves Shannon Airport of Ireland in 1979. Photo / Getty Images
Pope John Paul II, Francis's predecessor-but-one, waves from his plane as he leaves Shannon Airport of Ireland in 1979. Photo / Getty Images

"We have voted in our parliament and by referendum to modernise our laws – understanding that marriages do not always work, that women should make their own decisions and that families come in many forms including those headed by a grandparent, lone parent or same-sex parents or parents who are divorced."

He added: 'Holy Father, I believe that the time has now come for us to build a new relationship between church and state in Ireland – a new covenant for the 21st century. It is my hope that your visit marks the opening of a new chapter in the relationship between Ireland and the Catholic Church.

"Building on our intertwined history, and learning from our shared mistakes, it can be one in which religion is no longer at the centre of our society, but in which it still has an important place."

It came as the head of Ireland's Catholic church said the Pope was facing an "impossible task" to address grievances over historic sexual abuse.

Pope Francis has said he will meet with victims of clerical sex abuse in private, but protesters have gathered near Dublin Castle following criticism of the Vatican for its slow response to claims of systemic abuse in Pennsylvania.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said survivors were carrying a "trauma" which the Pope's visit would not be able to heal, Sky News reported. "We have no right to think that we can leave it behind us," he said.

Francis is ostensibly in Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) - a major global church event focused on promoting family values.

However, he will also fulfil a number of other engagements, including his meetings today with President Michael D Higgins and the joint speeches with Mr Varadkar.

Andrea Bocelli performs during the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Photo / Getty Images
Andrea Bocelli performs during the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Photo / Getty Images

With Ireland in the midst of a high-profile homelessness problem, the Pope was this afternoon to meet with a number of affected individuals during a private visit to families at the Capuchin Day Centre, run by a religious order that provides over 700 meals a day.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to line the streets of Dublin city centre on Saturday afternoon as he passes through in his famous Popemobile.

He passed close to the site of a former Magdalene laundry as he arrived on Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city to meet well-wishers outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

The notorious laundry institutions run by Catholic religious orders effectively incarcerated thousands of young women from troubled backgrounds and forced them to work under harsh conditions.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II was due to visit Our Lady of Lourdes church but famously failed to stop when his Popemobile tour of city fell behind schedule.

The present pontiff continued to St Mary's Pro-Cathedral where he spoke to local couples after praying at an altar which houses a perpetually lit candle for the victims of sexual abuse.

The Pope said that looking at the congregation comprising hundreds of young couples, he questioned those that claimed people no longer wanted to get married.

"Getting married and sharing your lives is a beautiful thing," he told them.

In the evening, he will join 82,000 pilgrims at a musical festival in the landmark Croke Park Gaelic Athletic Association stadium.

This morning he planted a tree at Aras an Uachtarain, the presidential residence, during his meeting with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina Higgins.

Other dignitaries who have planted trees on the lawn at Aras an Uachtarain include Presidents John F Kennedy and Eamon de Valera, the Queen and President Barack Obama.

Mr Higgins also raised the issue of child sex abuse with Pope Francis during his visit, speaking of anger at those who had the responsibility of bringing abuse to the authorities and have not done so.

A spokesman for Mr Higgins said that during the meeting, the Irish President raised with the pope the "immense suffering and hurt caused by child sex abuse perpetrated by some within the Catholic Church".

Earlier this week, the Pope wrote a 2,000-word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups.

Multiple investigations have found that probes finding Catholic Church leaders protected hundreds of predatory priests over decades.

Other prominent critics of the church's teaching on social issues were present in the invited audience at Dublin Castle.

They included former Irish president Mary McAleese, an opponent of the church's stance on LGBT issues.

Colm O'Gorman, who was a victim of sex abuse and leads Amnesty International in the Republic, said the Pope's address was a 'missed opportunity'.

He added: 'It is staggering to me that in 2018 we are still asking a Pope to take responsibility, not for his own actions necessarily, but for the actions of the institution that he heads.

Nuns listen intently to Pope Francis at the two-hour-long festival, which was choreographed as a celebration of family life, featuring music, song, dance, and spoken word. Photo / AP
Nuns listen intently to Pope Francis at the two-hour-long festival, which was choreographed as a celebration of family life, featuring music, song, dance, and spoken word. Photo / AP

"It is mind-boggling to me that to ask a Pope to tell the damned truth is a radical thing to suggest."

The Vatican was rocked this month by a devastating US report into child sex abuse that accused more than 300 priests in the state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.

Today the Pope was met on the red carpet by deputy head of government Simon Coveney and his children, who presented him with a bouquet of white and yellow roses with Irish foliage.

Mr Coveney said acknowledged that many people had mixed feelings about the visit, saying: "I think it's been difficult for many people, for victims, for Catholics and many of the clergy.

"But I hope and expect that this weekend will be a very powerful moment. He has a personality that can reach out to Irish people."

In his speech today the Pope also addressed the issue of Northern Ireland, praising those who helped forged the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He said: "We can give thanks for the two decades of peace that followed this historic agreement, while expressing firm hope that the peace process will overcome every remaining obstacle and help give birth to a future of harmony, reconciliation and mutual trust."

On Sunday the Pope will fly west to Co Mayo where he will follow in the footsteps of John Paul II and take part in a religious service at a Holy shrine in Knock.

Yellow and white flags of the Vatican were flying along the River Liffey on Saturday morning to mark the Papal visit.

He will then return to Dublin for the closing centrepiece of the WMOF event - an outdoor Mass in front of an expected congregation of half a million people.

However it was reported earlier this week that some protesters were planning to buy dozens or even hundreds of tickets and then leave the seats empty.

The Pontiff will witness a country that 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.

Referendums to legalise abortion and same-sex marriage have loosened the Catholic influence and earlier this week it emerged that one in three Irish families no longer meet the Vatican's definition of a nuclear 'family'.

Pope Francis arrives during The Festival of Families at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo / Getty Images
Pope Francis arrives during The Festival of Families at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo / Getty Images

'The Catholic Church is still very much part of our society but not at the centre of it as it was 40 years ago,' Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who last year became Ireland's first gay leader, told the BBC ahead of the visit.

"Ireland has become a very different place in the last 40 years and our relationship with the Church has changed principally because of so many revelations that have occurred around child sex abuse."

The Rainbow Choir, which is made up of LGBT singers, is protesting in Dublin against the exclusion of gay people and their families from the World Meeting Of Families (WMOF).

Among its supporters are Maria Angalika Fromm, from Germany, who has worked for 50 years for a changed church and said the Pope needed to persist with reforms.

She said: "He needs to break down the patriarchal structures and be open to women's ordination without celibacy and caring for all people including gay and lesbian.

"He has to go on and not be stopped by the old conservative men in the Vatican."

Soline Humbert, from Versailles near Paris and aged 62, was a steward at the last papal visit in 1979 looking after lost children.

She works with Women's Ordination Worldwide and said Vatican files on abuse should be opened.

She said: "Unless the truth comes out, and we know that as Christians, and we know that as Catholics, there is no movement forward, there is no resurrection, there is no transformation and trust cannot be re-established until the truth is acknowledged.

"It is very painful and it will be very disturbing but the truth is buried in the bottom, in the secret archives, of a lot of dioceses and especially in the Vatican.

"The Pope does need to acknowledge that it was the policy of the Vatican to prevent scandal, and by scandal I mean that the abuse would come to the surface."