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Pope's strong words on abuse must be backed by firm action

The Vatican's announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will meet the victims of clerical sex abuse when he visits Ireland this weekend, confirmed what had been widely expected.

In reality, it would have been unthinkable for the leader of the Catholic Church to attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and not set time aside for those who were abused as children by priests and religious, criminal acts that inflicted a legacy of pain and trauma that continues to this day.

What is not clear is why it has taken until this week for the Church hierarchy to provide official confirmation of the Pope's intention to meet survivors of abuse.

It is certainly a welcome and appropriate step but it would have been helpful if it had been stated at an earlier stage that this was the pontiff's plan.

Little information has been given about the proposed meeting but it should include victims from Northern Ireland who deserve to be heard along with those from the Republic.

While there will be much for the faithful to celebrate during the Pope's visit, there is no getting away from the dark shadow that has been cast by the clerical abuse scandal.

Pope Francis has acknowledged this in an unprecedented letter to all Catholics in which he admitted that the Church had 'abandoned' children.

He also spoke of the 'heart-wrenching' pain of victims, which was 'long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.'

The Pope's words came just days after the publication of an appalling report by a Pennsylvania grand jury which found that more than 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children. It is a report that in its scale and litany of depravity is profoundly disturbing.

What victims and survivors want is for their concerns to be properly heard, for full accountability - no matter how senior the figures involved - and cultural change that rejects cover-ups and secrecy and embraces transparency and openness.

The Pope's message is both sincere and significant but it must be backed up by firm action.

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