Pope to Meet Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse While in IrelandPope Francis will spend part of his weekend trip to Ireland meeting victims of sexual abuse committed by the clergy there, the Vatican said on Tuesday, addressing an issue that has enraged Irish Catholics and damaged the church’s standing in that country.
The announcement by the Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, came as church sexual abuse scandals have threatened to reshape Pope Francis’ legacy and have confronted the Roman Catholic Church with one of its worst crises.
Last week a Pennsylvania grand jury released the report of an investigation showing that in a cover-up lasting for 70 years, 301 priests in the state sexually abused more than 1,000 children. It was the broadest examination yet by an American government agency into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The Pennsylvania scandal echoed the abuses exposed in Boston 16 years ago, punctuating what critics have called the Catholic Church’s ingrained culture of masking criminal conduct, protecting deviant priests and silencing victims.
Similar scandals have erupted elsewhere during the pope’s tenure, including in Chile and Australia.
Ireland has its own history of sexual abuse committed by clerics and other emotionally wrenching church scandals, most notably the mistreatment of women and girls in the notorious Magdalene Laundries, the for-profit church institutions that survived through much of the 20th century.
Mr. Burke said at a Vatican news conference that Francis, the first pope to visit Ireland in nearly 40 years, would set aside time to meet with victims of sexual abuse during his visit on Saturday and Sunday. He said it would be up to the victims to decide afterward if they wished to speak publicly.
“The important thing for the pope, in these moments, is that it be a moment of prayer, of silence, of listening,” Mr. Burke said.
The pope has been accused of reacting slowly to well-known sexual abuses by priests. On Monday, in an extraordinarily frank letter addressed to all Catholics, Francis assailed the abuses as atrocities committed against children.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” he wrote in the 2,000-word letter. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
Critics in Ireland and elsewhere said that the pope’s letter was insufficient and that it offered no specific solutions. Maeve Lewis, chief executive of One in Four, an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse, told Ireland’s RTE Radio that she had no doubt Francis was sincere but that the letter seemed like just another apology.
“There is not one concrete step that the pope mentions in that letter that would really address the problem of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church,” she said.
Francis is to spend most of his Ireland trip in Dublin, where he will preside over the closing of an international Catholic meeting on the importance of the family.
Ireland’s population of roughly 4.8 million is at least 80 percent Catholic, but it has moved significantly away from strong devotion to the church, partly because of the clergy abuse scandals.
In what would have been unthinkable a few years ago, voters swept aside generations of conservative Catholic patriarchy in May and repealed a restrictive ban on abortion. The vote was seen as a stinging rebuke to the church.
Asked if the abuse scandals could overshadow the pope’s visit, Mr. Burke said: “Of course it is not easy to make a normal trip given the recent events in Ireland. Having said this, it is clear that the pope is going to Ireland for a reason, which is the World Meeting of Families. And this will be his emphasis.”