Pope Francis has begged forgiveness after admitting the Catholic Church let down children and “showed no care” to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
The plea came in the form of a letter issued around the world by the Vatican, in which Francis demanded greater accountability in the face of new revelations over decades of misconduct by the church in the US.
According to a report published last week, the abuse of more than 1,000 youngsters by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania was systemically covered up by church officials for years.
Francis condemned the “crime” of all those responsible in any abuse within the church, and any subsequent cover-ups, and insisted that Catholics must be involved in greater efforts to root it out.
“We have realised that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death,” he wrote.
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
The Vatican published the letter ahead of the first Papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years, with protests being planned in Dublin over the abuse scandal, which has also emerged in Chile and Australia.
Colm O’Gorman, who was repeatedly raped by a priest in County Wexford as a teenager in the 1980s, said: “It’s become a trope, he goes to a country and has a confidential meeting and releases a statement about how moved he was by victim testimony, expresses sorrow and regret and we move on.
“I like and admire many of the things that Francis has to say on poverty, social inclusion and refugees, however I think some of it is overstated. On abuse issues he has been shocking.”
It has not been revealed whether Francis plans to meet survivors during his trip, which begins on Saturday morning.
Francis will arrive in Dublin for two days of events as part of the World Meeting of Families, which is headlined by a mass at Phoenix Park on Sunday afternoon.
It is set to be a significantly lower turnout than the crowds which greeted John Paul II at the same venue in 1979, although around 500,000 people are still expected.
Meanwhile, an international research group is launching a database of Irish clergy convicted or credibly accused of abusing children in the hope of pressing Francis to release the names of all priests deemed guilty by the church.
BishopAccountability.org has said hiding such names “puts children at risk, withholds validation from survivors, and makes it nearly impossible for Catholic laypeople to protect their families or hold church leaders accountable”.