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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Former top Vatican official calls on Pope to resign amid abuse crisis  

Pontiff vowed to end sexual exploitation of children by clergy during highly-charged visit to Ireland

Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families at the Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. AP
Pope Francis attends the Festival of Families at the Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. AP

A former top Vatican official accused Pope Francis of having known of allegations of sex abuse by a prominent US cardinal for five years before accepting his resignation last month and he called on the pontiff to resign.

In an 11-page letter given to conservative Roman Catholic media outlets during the Pope's visit to Ireland, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano said he had told Francis in 2013 that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had faced extensive accusations of sexually abusing lower-ranking seminarians and priests.

McCarrick became the first Cardinal in living memory to resign his position in the Church leadership after a review concluded that claims he had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy were credible.

He was one of the highest-ranking church officials accused of sex abuse in a scandal that has rocked the 1.2 billion-member faith since reports of priests abusing children and bishops covering up for them were first reported by the Boston Globe in 2002.

On Sunday Pope Francis will speak in front of some 500,000 faithful in Phoenix Park in Dublin, as abuse victims and their supporters gather in a "Stand for Truth" rally in the city centre to demand justice.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Saturday urged the pope to take action against abuses and ensure justice for victims worldwide, while Francis admitted the Church's "failure".

Pope Francis said inaction over "these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage, and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share those sentiments".

On Saturday the pontiff also met eight victims, including a woman assaulted by a priest when she was in hospital aged 13 and a man who was illegally adopted because his mother was unmarried.

In a strongly-worded speech at the start of the pope's visit, Mr Varadkar said the abuses in Ireland were "stains" on the Catholic Church, the state and Irish society as a whole.

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"There is much to be done to bring about justice and truth and healing for victims and survivors. Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure that this is done here in Ireland and across the world," he said.

"Far too often there was judgment, severity and cruelty ... people kept in dark corners, behind closed doors, cries for help that went unheard," he added.

He demanded of Pope Francis "that from words flow actions".

Paul Jude Redmond, who was illegally adopted from a church-run "Mother and Baby Home" and met the pope on Saturday, said the pontiff appeared "genuinely shocked" by the stories of abuse.

But at a news conference in Dublin on Saturday by the group Ending Clergy Abuse, victim Mark Vincent Healey said the pope's speech in Dublin was a "total missed opportunity".

"We're still waiting. We're left with uncertain silence. When is he going to act? What is he going to do?"

Nuns listens to Pope Francis as they attend the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. AP
Nuns listens to Pope Francis as they attend the Festival of Families in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. AP

This is the first papal visit to Ireland since John Paul II spoke in front of 1.5 million people during a visit in 1979.

The church's role has been badly dented by abuse scandals and the Irish have shed traditional mores, voting this year to legalise abortion after approving same-sex marriage in 2015.

The pontiff is in Ireland to close the 2018 World Meeting of Families – a global Catholic gathering that addressed issues including the treatment of gay people in the church.

But street vendors in Dublin selling papal souvenirs have complained of sluggish trade, as protesters rubbed shoulders with devout Catholics in the streets of the city.

In Tuam, a town in western Ireland, a silent vigil was planned for Sunday in solidarity with victims of "mother and baby" homes – institutions accused of being punishment hostels for unwed pregnant women.

"Significant quantities" of baby remains found in makeshift graves at the site of one such home in Tuam last year shocked the country.

Multiple investigationss in Ireland have found church leaders protected hundreds of predatory priests and former Irish president Mary McAleese revealed this month that the Vatican had sought to keep church documents inaccessible to government investigators.

The abuse scandals in Ireland are part of a worldwide crisis for the Vatican.

A devastating report this month accused more than 300 priests in the US state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.

The pope wrote a letter to the world's 1.3 billion Catholics vowing to prevent future "atrocities" but also conceding that no efforts "to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient".

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