Northern Ireland news

Pope Francis asks for forgiveness for abuse - but does not offer any new action

Pope Francis arrives to attend the closing Mass at the World Meeting of Families at Phoenix Park in Dublin. Picture by Brian Lawless, Press Association

AS his two-day visit to Ireland came to a close, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the Catholic Church's abuse scandals - but was criticised for not offering any new concrete action.

In his homily at a rainy open-air Mass at Phoenix Park, the Pope fulfilled a promise he had made to survivors of abuse by confirming that it was not a mortal sin for single mothers to seek the children who had been taken from them.

He also laid bare the many other forms of mistreatment meted out to children and vulnerable adults in past decades and appealed for forgiveness for each and "the strength to work for justice".

Speaking to journalists on the flight back to Rome last night, Francis said he had "found so much faith in Ireland".

This was perhaps most fervently on show at the Marian shrine at Knock, where an enthusiastic crowd of more than 45,000 braved wet weather to hear the Pope appeal for families to say the Rosary.

A joyous and energetic Festival of Families concert in Croke Park, a celebration of marriage in Dublin's St Mary's Pro-Cathedral and the Mass itself - although numbers were well down on the anticipated 500,000 - are other public expressions of faith that Francis will have been referring to. Thousands also lined the route of the Popemobile through Dublin.

Pope Francis speaks to journalists on his flight back to Rome

But an unavoidable thread running through the intense 32-hour visit was abuse.

On Saturday evening Francis spent 90 minutes with a group of eight survivors, including Belfast priest Fr Patrick McCafferty, who said it had been an excellent meeting.

Also in the group was Marie Collins. She resigned from a Vatican commission set up by Pope Francis to tackle the abuse issue because of a lack of progress, which she said was a result of resistance in the Vatican.

On the flight home last night, the Pope claimed that Ms Collins had not properly understood issues around bishops' accountability - she has called for a tribunal to be established to judge bishops' actions - but that he would explain the next time he saw her at the Vatican.

Pope Francis leaving on an Aer Lingus plane from Dublin Airport back to the Vatican

During a 50-minute in-flight press conference, conducted in Italian, the Pope also refused to answer questions on claims that he knew five years ago that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick - whose resignation he accepted last month - was a serial predator.

"You have the journalistic ability to make your own conclusions. When some time has passed, and you have reached your conclusions, maybe I will speak more," he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted last night: "We welcome Pope Francis's call for firm and decisive action and for forgiveness. We now ask that from words flow actions. We thank Pope Francis for his visit, and ask for his prayers."

Religious Affairs Correspondent William Scholes

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