DUBLIN — Pope Francis faced a lukewarm reception and scattered protests Saturday on his trip to Ireland, with even his vow to rid the church of the “scourge” of sexual abuse and his outrage at those “repugnant crimes” dismissed as an insult by Ireland’s wounded victims.

The abuse scandal – which has convulsed Ireland since the 1990s and has exploded anew in the U.S. – took center stage on the first day of Francis’ two-day trip to Ireland. The visit was originally intended to celebrate Catholic families but has been overshadowed by the renewed abuse crisis.

Francis sought to respond to the outcry by vowing to end sex abuse during a speech to Irish government authorities at Dublin Castle.

“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – to adequately address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community,” he told them. “I myself share these sentiments.”

He cited measures taken by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to respond to the crisis. But while Benedict is credited with cracking down on abusers, he never acknowledged the Vatican’s role in fueling a culture of cover-up or sanctioned bishops for failing to protect their flocks from predator priests.

Francis followed his promise with a half-hour meeting with eight survivors of both clerical and institutional abuse and prayed quietly before a candle lit for victims in Dublin’s cathedral. But neither his words nor the meeting with victims is likely to assuage demands for heads to roll over the abuse scandal.


“Disappointing, nothing new,” was the reaction from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, a former member of Francis’ sex abuse advisory panel who quit last year in frustration. She later took part in Francis’ meeting with seven other abuse survivors, including two priests and a public official.

Colm O’Gorman, who is leading a solidarity rally on Sunday in Dublin for abuse victims, said Francis’ remarks about sharing the shame felt by Catholics were an “insult to faithful Catholics.”

The reception that Francis received in Dublin contrasted sharply with the raucous, rock star welcome that greeted St. John Paul II in 1979 in the first-ever papal visit. No one from the public was at the airport or the roads nearby when Francis arrived Saturday and the streets near a church-run homeless shelter that Francis visited were practically empty despite barricades designed to hold back crowds.

At one protest, people tossed baby shoes to remind the pope of the poor treatment the Catholic church doled out to the children of unwed mothers.

Crowds did throng Francis’ popemobile route and gathered outside Dublin’s cathedral, basking in the sunny weather.

Deeply Catholic Ireland has had one of the world’s worst records of clergy sex abuse, crimes that were revealed to its 4.8 million people over the past decade by government-mandated inquiries. The reviews concluded that thousands of children abused, and Irish bishops worked for years to hide those crimes.

Francis urged the Irish to recognize that for all its failings, the Catholic Church educated and cared for generations of Irish children in times of famine and great poverty.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar concurred, saying the church stepped in to care for Irish children when the state did not. But 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.”

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