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Pope Francis to meet victims of sexual abuse in Ireland

Pope Francis condemns sexual abuse by priests

Pope Francis is expected to meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse on his upcoming trip to Ireland, the Vatican announced Tuesday. The timing of the meeting will not be publicized until it's over, and it will be up to the victims to determine if they would like to speak afterwards, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told journalists.

Priestly sex abuse was always expected to dominate the pope's trip to Ireland, a once staunchly Roman Catholic country where the church's credibility has been devastated by years of revelations that priests raped and molested children with impunity and their superiors covered it up. The issue has taken on new gravity, however, following revelations in the United States that one of Francis' trusted cardinals, the retired archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused and harassed minors and adult seminarians.

In addition, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania last week revealed that at least 1,000 children were abused by some 300 priests over the past 70 years, and that generations of bishops failed to take measures to protect their flock or punish the rapists.

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"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all," the grand jury report said.

On Monday, Pope Francis published a letter condemning the cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, which specifically referred to the Pennsylvania report.

"With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives," Pope Francis wrote.

"We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them," he continued.

The letter from Latin America's first pope also came on the heels of a spiraling sex-abuse scandal in Chile, where law enforcement has staged multiple raids on church archives to try to determine what was known and kept hidden about pedophile priests.

The three-page letter, issued in seven languages, stressed that its message was to a global audience. In it, Francis acknowledged that no effort to beg forgiveness of the victims would be sufficient but vowed: "never again."

Looking to the future, he said, "No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated."

He demanded an end to "clericalism" - the culture that places priests on a pedestal. He said lay Catholics must help end that culture, since rank-and-file Catholics are often the ones who most fervently hold up their priests as beyond reproach.

That emphasis - on both the role of the laity and clericalism - is new for a pope in addressing the abuse scandal and seems a direct response to the Pennsylvania findings, said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, associate professor of American studies and history at the University of Notre Dame.

"That's what people are feeling. That's the rage," she said, adding that she had acquaintances who were withholding donations to their parishes, refusing to address priests as "Father" and demanding at Sunday Mass that their pastors address the crisis.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Ireland on Saturday.