KNOCK — Hundreds of thousands of Catholics gathered under dark rain clouds as Pope Francis said Mass in a Dublin park and stopped briefly to pray at Knock Shrine, a pilgrimage site in the west of Ireland, on the second and final day of his visit to Ireland.
Clouds of a different sort were gathering over Francis’s increasingly troubled papacy, however, after a former Holy See ambassador to the U.S. called on Francis to resign over claims that the pope protected Theodore McCarrick, who was forced to resign as cardinal in July after accusations of sex abuse crimes.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C., sent a statement to several Catholic newspapers overnight, in which he claimed Francis “continued to cover” for the disgraced McCarrick, who, Vigano said, was sanctioned by Benedict XVI, Francis’s immediate predecessor as pope.
The Vatican press office had not commented on Vigano’s statement by the time Francis flew out of Ireland at 6.45pm local time.
Despite the allegations that he is implicated in a cover-up, Francis again sought forgiveness on Sunday for the sex abuse crimes that have undermined the standing of the Catholic Church, saying during an afternoon Mass in Dublin that he wanted to see justice for those who “suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred by painful memories.”
The remarks continued a theme addressed in his speeches and events Saturday, when he met a group of 8 survivors of abuse at church-run institutions and described the abuses and cover-ups as “repellent” and later “caca,” or excrement.
As the pope left the country, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar posted on Twitter that he welcomes the pope’s “call for firm and decisive action and for forgiveness,” and repeated his request that “from words flow actions.”
However several thousand of people attended two events commemorating victims of abuse — one in Dublin and another in Tuam in the west of Ireland, about a half an hour drive from the pope’s morning stopover in Knock. Both events coincided with the papal Mass in Dublin— for which there was a smaller-than-expected turnout.
500,000 tickets had been distributed for the Dublin ceremony, but attendance estimates ranged from around 300,000 to as low as 130,000. Ireland’s recent warm and dry summer turned autumnal over the weekend, with heavy rain and temperatures dropping to around 10 degrees celsius.
Earlier on Sunday Francis received a rapturous reception from a near 45,000 crowd in Knock, a small village and Marian shrine in Ireland’s west, where he described abuse as “an open wound” requiring the “the pursuit of truth and justice.”
Thousands of people set off before dawn for a glimpse of the pope, who briefly visited a chapel in Knock that memorialises a church-approved apparition of the Virgin Mary, before praying with the rain-soaked crowd.
Ann Downey travelled south to Knock from Derry, a four hour drive, to line a barricade under pre-dawn rain in the hope of getting a close-up view of the pontiff as he rolled past standing on the back of a white pick-up truck, or “popemobile.”
“Despite all the scandal, people still made an effort to come,” Downey said.
Mary Straffan travelled from Galway, an hour south of Knock, and said the pope’s visit could spark renewed interest in religion in a country where the once-mighty Catholic Church has shed much of its influence. “You can see there are a lot of young people here this morning, so maybe the visit will help,” she said.
*this article was subsequently incorporated into a bigger piece published by the LAT