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In Ireland, Mixed Reactions To Pope's Arrival


We're turning now to Pope Francis and his visit to Ireland this weekend, where he is confronting a nation that has been profoundly shaken by years of scandals involving abuse of Catholic clergy. The pope broached the issue in a speech and then rode through downtown Dublin past crowds lining the streets.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's fabulous. (Cheering).

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt was in the crowd, and he is with us now.

Frank, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So what kind of reception has Pope Francis received so far? There's been a lot of reporting on disaffected Catholics in Ireland. But what are you seeing?

LANGFITT: It was really interesting. Along the route, some places, it was robust, five or six people deep. And he's doing a Mass tonight at a stadium with, I think, in the neighborhood of 60,000 people. Some people were delighted to see him. I talked to a woman named Carmel Malone. She's 78, came in a wheelchair, had a Pope Francis flag. And here's a part of our exchange.

How did you feel when you saw the pope?

CARMEL MALONE: Oh, it was marvelous, marvelous.

MARTIN: So that person was clearly thrilled to see the pope. But there's just been a lot of reporting, as we said, about how the sexual abuse scandals have really badly damaged the standing of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and I was wondering if part of that story was evident to you along the route.

LANGFITT: Yeah, it really was. It was very striking - where I was when the popemobile came by, the crowds (ph) were actually strikingly thin. They were just one or two deep. And the response was pretty muted. You even heard some boos from sex abuse survivors who were out there to protest. Several people told me that you get far more for St. Patrick's Day parade here. And many people I talked to came out really for a sense of history or respect for Pope Francis, maybe the spectacle, but there's also a really strong sense of how much the church has lost its influence here.

MARTIN: The recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania documented some 300 alleged abusers and a thousand people who were affected by their behavior - survivors, if you will - and more institutional cover-up. Did the pope talk about that today? It's clearly a global problem.

LANGFITT: He did. And he was under a lot of pressure because this story has just broken relatively recently. He talked about the failures of the church, as he has before. Let's give it a listen.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) If one thinks about those who are most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuses of young people, minors, by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education.

MARTIN: And that's clearly the voice of the interpreter that we are hearing there. So how are the abuse survivors responding? I see that the pope did meet with several people today.

LANGFITT: I think they're very happy to see that. But I met with a number of survivors today, and they were very unimpressed with the pope's speech. They wanted an acknowledgment of the cover-ups. They'd like to see firing of bishops. They want to see tough accountability. And I talked with a man named Colm O’Gorman. He's a sex abuse survivor and head of Amnesty International here in Ireland. Here was his reaction.

COLM O'GORMAN: I have to say, I thought this was the pope's best opportunity to address these issues in Ireland, and he blew it, I mean, spectacularly.

MARTIN: Well, Frank, as briefly as you can, why does he say that?

LANGFITT: I think he says it because people who are sexual abuse survivors don't feel that the church is doing anything to change the systemic problems or own up to that massive cover-ups, and I think that frustrates them and pains them greatly.

MARTIN: Well, that is quite a statement. We are going to check in with you tomorrow on Day 2 of Pope Francis' visit. Frank, thank you.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.