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Pope’s Ireland visit sparks calls for action to help church abuse survivors

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A plea for forgiveness from the Pope for the crimes of church figures in Ireland is “not enough” to ease the pain of people who’s lives have been blighted by sexual abuse, campaigners have said.

Pope Francis called for firm action in pursuing justice for church abuse victims in Ireland during a historic visit to the country.

He said the crimes committed by members of the church had left an “open wound” and its hierarchy had been guilty of cover-ups and failing to show compassion.

The Pope said: “We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church.”

But he has faced criticism from justice campaigners who said the Catholic Church had failed to cooperate with investigations into abuse and covered allegations up to protect its reputation.

Solicitor David Greenwood, who represents abuse survivors including people who attended Ampleforth Roman Catholic school in North Yorkshire, said abuse complaints continued to be dealt with by a secretive internal investigation system.

He said: “He’s asking for forgiveness and saying sorry. That’s not enough.

“Many of my clients lost patience with the catholic church hierarchy years ago. We have known for a long time that the church has been covering this up.”

Mr Greenwood, a solicitor with law firm Switalskis who works with the support group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), said the Pope should change the system of allegations being looked at internally by church officials.

He said: “He should order all bishops to hand over all reports of child sexual abuse to the police in their area.”

MACSAS Chairman Phil Johnson added: “Words are easy but it’s actions that count.

“What the Pope has said is fine as far as it goes but it still doesn’t really address the issues. The victims have been completely neglected and often blamed when they come forward.”

The Pope’s decision to address the legacy of abuse on the first papal visit to Ireland since 1979 drew praise in some quarters, but others criticised Francis for not offering a public apology or directly acknowledging the Vatican’s role in the failures.

The world leader of the Catholic Church acknowledged that Irish people had a right to be outraged by its response to abuse crimes.

At the holy shrine of Knock in County Mayo, thousands of pilgrims who braved the rain to see the Pope at a site revered by Irish Catholics applauded as he urged decisive steps to bring truth to the victims.

“None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred, distanced from mothers, abandoned, and left with painful memories,” he said.

“This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice.

“I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family.

“I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”

On Saturday evening, the Pope met a number of victims of criminality and cruelty inflicted by church members.

The private engagement in Dublin came hours after Francis expressed “pain and shame” over failures to tackle the scandals.

Abuse survivor Marie Collins, who was at the meeting, said: “He was very frank, he listened to us all and he gave us all an opportunity to talk about our experiences.”

Pilgrims welcomed the Pope to an outdoor religious service in Dublin as his trip to Ireland came to a close.

Well-wishers waved flags, cheered and reached out to touch the pontiff as he was driven in his Popemobile through crowds of people who braved torrential rain and a three-kilometre hike to attend the Papal Mass in Phoenix Park.

A total of 500,000 free tickets were snapped up for the event, billed as one of the biggest open air events in Europe this year.