A considerably smaller than expected crowd of Irish Catholics showed up to greet Pope Francis at Dublin’s Phoenix Park today (Aug. 26). Organizers offered 500,000 tickets to the World Meeting of Families mass and the Vatican reports 300,000 showed up for the service. Several news outlets who were in touch with park organizers report that less than 130,000 were in attendance.
The abysmal turnout is a far cry from the 1 million people flocked to attend Pope John Paul II’s mass at the same venue in 1979, which was the last time a pontiff visited the largely Catholic nation.
The wet and windy weather may be partly to blame, but several thousands opted to join a large gathering of protestors against years of sex abuses by clergy that the Roman Catholic Church has quietly ignored for years. The protest was organized by Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty International’s executive director who has openly spoken about being raped by a Catholic priest as a teen.
Reports of predatory, pedophilic behavior by priests, and sexual abuse in Catholic-operated orphanages and shelters have rocked the Irish Catholic Church. Among the most egregious cases involves the Raphoe diocese’s Rev. Eugene Greene, who served nine years in prison for raping and molesting 26 boys between 1965 and 1982. The discovery of a mass grave of 800 children at a Catholic-run home in Tuam, County Galway last year and testimonies about the inhumane and squalid conditions at the Magdalene Laundries, operated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, have eroded the Church.
Pope Francis sided with protestors and asked for forgiveness.
“We ask forgiveness for all the times that we, as the Church, did not provide survivors of any kind of abuse compassion, to look for justice, and the truth, and concrete actions, so we ask forgiveness,” he said during today’s mass, echoing the message of his Aug. 20 papal letter.
The Pope also delivered the contrite message when he met with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, the country’s first openly gay taoiseach, on Saturday (Aug. 25). “The failure of ecclesiastical authorities—bishops, religious superiors, priests and others—adequately to address these appalling crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments,” he said.
But former Vatican ambassador to Washington Carlo Maria Vigano doesn’t believe Pope Francis will act on his resolutions and called for his resignation. In an 11-page testimony, Vigano claims that the Pope Francis willfully ignored reports about Washington, DC’s disgraced Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who reportedly made sexual advances towards children, priests and seminarians.