Pope's visit

Clerical abuse survivors in NI should be part of meeting with Pope - lawyer

A protest by clerical abuse campaigners at Belfast City Hall yesterday ahead of the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland at the weekend. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
By Michael McHugh, Press Association

SURVIVORS of clerical abuse in Northern Ireland must be included in a meeting with the Pope when he visits Dublin, their lawyer has said.

Claire McKeegan said she had received no response from the organisers of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) and claimed her clients' calls had been ignored.

Campaigners gathered at the gates of Belfast's City Hall yesterday, where they tied dozens of baby shoes to the railings and unfurled banners pledging to never forget the suffering of children.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis wrote an open letter to Catholics worldwide condemning child abuse and Church cover-ups.

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He is expected to meet some victims during his 36-hour trip to the Republic this weekend.

Ms McKeegan said: "What I am hearing from my clients is there has been a last-dash apology that has been issued by the Vatican and the Pope in recent days.

"But the frustration arises because in recent weeks and months there have been calls for apologies and meetings with the Pope during his visit and that was all ignored."

She said her clients had suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse while in care, in schools and in parishes.

"What they are now calling for is that this meeting with survivors and victims that has been proffered, that must be inclusive of victims in the north, they want to be included in any meeting with the Holy Father and to date there has been no invitation and that must happen."

"They demand that if there is any meeting, survivors and victims from the north must be included and not left out as they have been in every public inquiry thus far."

A public inquiry led by retired High Court Judge Sir Anthony Hart recommended compensation be paid to abuse victims who were residents of institutions run by religious orders and others in Northern Ireland.

That has yet to be done after the power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed soon after the former judge published his report in 2017.

Among those supporting the protesters yesterday was former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, with SDLP and Sinn Féin representatives also present.

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said last night he hoped the papal visit will bring with it a heartfelt apology to victims and survivors of institutional abuse.

Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon also said victims "want the closure they require in order for them to move on with their lives".

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