Survivor: Pope seemed unaware of details of clerical abuses

Survivor: Pope seemed unaware of details of clerical abuses

By Dan Buckley

Pope Francis appeared to be unaware of the details of abuse suffered by many Irish victims at the hands of Catholic clerics, according to one of the survivors who met him in Dublin on Saturday.

Damian O’Farrell, 53, was one of eight victims who met the Pope at the Papal Nuncio’s residence.

The 90-minute meeting came hours after the Pope acknowledged Irish people had a right to be outraged by the Church’s response.

“He possibly did not have a briefing on the eight of us,” Mr O’Farrell told RTÉ radio, adding that the Pope also seemed to know little or nothing about the Magdalene laundry and Tuam babies scandals.

In June, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said the Pope would be briefed about the abuse of women and children in Irish Catholic-run institutions.

He will know when he comes to the Pro Cathedral in Dublin,” Dr Martin said at the time. “Many people don’t know that but there’s a candle that has been burning there for years reminding people of the suffering that took place.

However, Mr O’Farrell, a Dublin city councillor who was sexually abused by a Christian Brother at the age of 12, said the Pope talked mostly about South America and his homeland of Argentina, “as well as the odd story about his own experience”.

Also at the meeting were Paul Jude Redmond and Clodagh Malone, who were born in mother and baby homes. Pope Francis was given a copy of Mr Redmond’s book, The Adoption Machine, which details the thousands of deaths and horrors of the homes.

The Pope was genuinely shocked to hear about the 6,000 babies who died and the 3,000 banished babies and the vaccine trials and lifted his hands to his head in shock,” said Mr Redmond.

Ms Malone described the meeting as very powerful.

“He listened with a genuine interest,” she said. “And he asked many questions about mother and baby homes.”

Mr O’Farrell said the Pope came across as “warm and fatherly”. He said he told him he would hold an investigation into the cover-ups of abuse by Church hierarchy.

“I told him that he owed an apology to the Catholic faithful in Ireland who are appalled at the abuse and that he needs to ensure accountability, reparation, and truth,” said Mr O’Farrell. “He said he would do that.”

Earlier on Saturday, at Dublin Castle, the pontiff referred to steps taken by his predecessor, Pope Benedict, as he insisted the Church was acting on abuse.

“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.

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.

"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.”

The Pope said he wished to acknowledge women who in the past had “endured particularly difficult circumstances”.

Later, he passed close to the site of a former Magdalene laundry as he arrived on Seán McDermott St in the north inner city to meet wellwishers outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

A number of abuse survivors expressed disappointment with the Pope’s speech at Dublin Castle. Survivor Colm O’Gorman called his remarks a staggering effort at deflection that failed to acknowledge the Vatican’s role in covering-up the crimes.

“It was quite shocking actually in some ways,” he said. “He could have talked to us all in a way that was blunt, that was clear, that was frank, that was human, that was accessible.

“He refused to do so. And that’s a huge shame. I think frankly it’s rather disgraceful.”

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