Pope to meet sex abuse victims

Francis visiting much-changed island this weekend

(ANSA) - Vatican City, August 21 - Pope Francis will meet victims of priestly sex abuse on his August 25-26 visit to Ireland, an island that has changed greatly since his predecessor John Paul II visited it in 1979.
    The Catholic Church has lost its once-dominant position in Irish life after a string of clerical sex abuse and cover-up scandals, as well as revelations of brutality at Church-run institutions for disgraced single mothers.
    The Catholic country recently voted to allow abortions and three years ago became the first country to approve gay marriage in a referendum.
    Ireland also has an openly gay premier in Leo Varadkar, the son of Indian immigrants.
    Francis will pray for the victims of abuse on Saturday in a Dublin cathedral in front of a lamp that has been put there to mark victims' suffering.
    "It is important for the pope to listen to them", Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said this week.
    He said the victims would decide whether to divulge the contents of the meeting.
    The pope will also pray at the tomb of the 'patron saint of alcoholics', ex-Franciscan friar Matt Talbot.
    Earlier this week the pope apologised for being "too late" to stop "atrocities" on children, saying the Church had "abandoned the little ones", in reference to about a thousand kids abused in the latest case in the US.
    In an impassioned letter to the People of God, Francis voiced "shame and repentance" on the latest clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, saying authorities had acted too late.
    Francis said "with shame and repentance, as an ecclesiastical community, we admit that we did not go where we should have gone, that we did not act in time recognising the scope and gravity of the damage that was being caused to so many lives".
    He said "We neglected and abandoned the little ones".
    The pope said priestly sex abuse of children is a crime that "generates deep wounds".
    Francis said "we ask forgiveness" for the "atrocities" committed in priestly sex abuse of minors.
    The pontiff was forced to apologise earlier this year after dismissing victims' claims that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros witnessed and did nothing about abuse committed by the country's most notorious sexual predator, Father Fernando Karadima.
    Victims groups have complained that Francis has not done enough on the issue.