Pope meets survivors and begs forgiveness for church from Irish mass-goers
Pope Francis issued a sweeping apology on Sunday for the “crimes” of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It followed an earlier meeting with eight representatives of survivors of abuse the night before at the residence of Ireland’s Papal Nuncio.
There was applause as he read out his apology at the start of his Mass in Phoenix Park, the scene of a much less humble Papal visit in 1979 by Pope John Paul II.
He told the more than a hundred thousand people who braved hours of exposure to driving rain to be there for the Mass that he had victims and survivors of all sorts of abuses including sexual abuse and the forced labour of places like the Magdalene Laundries. He said he had also met some of the thousands and thousands of children taken from their unwed mothers and forcibly put up for adoption.
To those now ageing and often elderly mothers of those children he said it is not a sin – nor shameful – for them to seek them out and seek contact with their long-lost children.
Pope Francis said: “We ask forgiveness for the abuse in Ireland. Abuses of power, conscience and sexual abuse perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the Church.
“In a special way we ask pardon for all the abuses committed in various institutions run by male or female religious members of the Church and we ask for forgiveness for those cases of exploitation through manual work that so many young women and men were subjected to.
“We ask forgiveness for the times that as a Church we did not show survivors of whatever kind of abuse compassion and the seeking of justice and truth through concrete actions. We ask for forgiveness.
“May the Lord keep this state of shame and compunction and give us strength so this never happens again, and that there is justice.”
Eight abuse victims, or survivors, met Pope Francis for nearly ninety minutes at the home of Ireland’s Papal Nuncio expressed surprise that he had been so clearly “shocked” at the stories they told him.
They were part of a campaign group comprising the Coalition of Mother And Baby Home Survivors, in association with Derek Leinster of the Protestant Bethany Home, illegal adoptions campaigner Theresa Hiney, Survivors And Victims of Institutional Abuse and The Association of Mixed Race Irish. At the meeting the Pope told them that those who had carried out abuse or facilitated cover-ups were “sh*t”.
Campaigner Paul Redmond said they were told by Pope Francis that a group of “elite” clergy, or a “high church”, were blocking progress in addressing past failings. Mr Redmond said the Pope was “clearly shocked” and lifted his hands to his head in disbelief when he was confronted with their personal accounts of the abuse they suffered. They presented the Pope with a letter in English and Spanish which said an estimated 100,000 single mothers had been separated from their children who were given to other families.
They also presented to the Pope a copy of Redmond’s book, The Adoption Machine, and a blue baby shoe with black mourning ribbon on behalf of the ‘Baby Shoes Re member’ project, to symbolise the innocence of all the babies and children who have suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church both in institutions and as victims of sexual abuse by clerics.
Another survivor who spoke to the Pope addressed the issue of Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries but the Pope was unfamiliar with these institutions. Mr Redmond said he spent a few minutes giving the Pope “a crash course about the role of institutions in Ireland which Ireland retained long after the rest of the world closed them down from around 1900.
In Ireland, he told the Pope, they lasted well into the 1980s and 1990s. He said they told the Pope that 150,000 women and children went through the various institutions, that at least 6,000 babies were neglected to death in the Mother and Baby homes alone, and that 3,000 babies were effectively sold to rich Americans, that the nuns “donated” almost 500 bodies of dead babies to medical science to save themselves the cost of undertakers and burials.
Mr Redmond said the Pope drew parallels between what occurred in Ireland and what happened in Argentina and how the “Grandmothers of the Disappeared” are still searching for their grandchildren.
They asked the Pope to call on the nuns who ran the mother and baby homes to acknowledge their actions and to make an unqualified apology to all the survivors of their institutions. Mr Redmond, who was born at Castlepollard mother and baby home in Co Westmeath in 1964, said he was surprised Pope Francis had spoken so candidly about abuse within the church and his admission that he still had doubts about whether the issues could be rectified.
“I went in to the meeting as a very cynical and lapsed Catholic but I came out with a sense that he did want to do something about the failings,” he said.
Those present at the 90- minute meeting also included Clodagh Malone, who was born in St Patrick’s mother and baby home in Dublin, Ms Malone said: “It was a powerful and positive meeting that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I feel my faith has been renewed and I have real hope for the future of the Catholic Church while Pope Francis continues to fight for all survivors around the world.”
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