Sex abuse protesters to confront Pope Francis during first pontifical visit to Ireland in nearly 40 years

Nick Squires
Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin on Saturday, August 25 - AFP

Pope Francis will be met with protests by victims of clerical sex abuse when he visits Ireland in the summer, campaigners warned.

The Vatican announced on Wednesday that the Pope will travel to the Republic of Ireland in August for the World Meeting of Families, a Catholic celebration of marriage and family life.

Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland had hoped he would also spend time in the province but that prospect seemed unlikely.

The Catholic Church has been badly damaged by scandals over priests sexually abusing children and Pope Francis has been accused of failing to grasp the gravity of the issue.

“There will certainly be protests and complaints,” Marie Collins, a high-profile victim of clerical sex abuse, told The Telegraph.

She was a member of a Vatican commission created by Pope Francis to come up with ways of combating the sexual abuse of children and minors by priests, but resigned a year ago over the body’s failure to enact any concrete measures.

“The Pope has said all the right things, he’s talked about zero tolerance, but when it comes to action, he hasn’t done anything.

"I don’t know why the issue is not a higher priority for him, but it’s not looking hopeful for the future,” said Mrs Collins, who was molested by a hospital chaplain when she was 13.

Pope Francis visits

It will be the first papal visit to Ireland in nearly 40 years.

When Pope John Paul II visited in 1979, he was greeted by huge crowds, at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was deeply influential in all aspects of life.

But Ireland is now a very different country – the Church’s reputation has been deeply compromised by sex abuse scandals, divorce was legalized in a referendum in 1995 and in 2015 Ireland became the first nation in the world to make same-sex marriage legal.

The country is due to hold another referendum on its strict abortion rules in May.

“The number of people attending Mass is down, we have ageing priests, the seminaries are struggling and religious orders are closing down,” said Mrs Collins.

The 81-year-old pontiff will arrive in Dublin on August 25 and will celebrate Mass the next day at Phoenix Park.

Profile | Pope Francis

He caused outrage during a recent trip to Chile when he questioned the testimony of sex abuse victims and threw his support behind a bishop accused of covering up abuse.

Margaret McGuckin, from the campaign group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, has led calls for a special payment to be made to victims of abuse in Catholic residential homes in Northern Ireland.

"I am sure people could get quite angry and irate that the Pope is still coming,” she said.

"Our groups will be there to protest. There still remains a cover-up. We still know there has not been a proper investigation done into the abuses of the Christian Brothers."

“He still hasn’t stepped in to do anything. I don’t think it is a good time for him to come here.”