MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Pope Francis has arrived in Ireland on an official two-day visit, which is the first visit by a leader of the Catholic Church to the country in over four decades, the broadcaster RTE reported.
According to RTE, the pope will meet with Irish President Michael D. Higgins in the latter’s residence on Sunday.
An oak tree planting ceremony will take place in the residence. Pope John Paul II, the last Catholic leader to visit Ireland prior to Pope Francis, also took part in such a ceremony in 1979.
The pontiff has addressed the growing number of scandals on the cover-up of sexual abuse and rape of minors by Catholic priests.
“With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” Pope Francis said in a speech at the Dublin Castle, as quoted by the broadcaster.
The leader of the Catholic Church went on to join public outrage over the child abuse.
“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities — bishops, religious superiors, priests and others — adequately to address 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,” the Pope emphasized.
During his visit, the pope is slated to have a highly anticipated meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse, as well as with a number of state officials, and attend the World Meeting of Families Congress in Dublin.
Before departing for the Vatican, he will also deliver a mass in Phoenix Park in the country’s capital on Sunday.
Pope Francis is visiting Ireland just over a week after another massive cover-up of sexual abuse and rape of minors by Catholic priests was revealed, with a grand jury report showing that since the 1940s more than 1,000 children had been molested by at least 301 Roman Catholic priests in the US state of Pennsylvania.
Ireland, where almost 80 percent of the population consider themselves Roman Catholics, according to a 2016 census, has also seen its share of clerical molestation scandals. In 2009, a report revealed that the Archdiocese of Dublin and other authorities of the Catholic Church in the country covered up sexual abuse by priests for almost 30 years, from 1975 to 2004.