RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
While speaking at a Mass in Dublin yesterday, Pope Francis made his most abject apology yet for clerical sex abuse and the church's mistreatment of women and children. Here he is through a translator.
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POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland - abuses of power and conscience, sexual abuses on the part of qualified members of the church.
MARTIN: But his contrition has been marred by a new allegation. Yesterday a former Vatican official accused Pope Francis of ignoring sexual misconduct allegations against an American cardinal who has since resigned. The pope dismissed the allegation. NPR's Frank Langfitt has the story from Dublin.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: This trip to a radically changed Ireland has been a difficult one for the pope. There have been protests and dramatically smaller crowds than nearly four decades ago, when the nation embraced Pope John Paul II on the last papal visit. Speaking at the city's Phoenix Park, Pope Francis admitted leaders deserve blame for the scandals that have plagued the church.
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POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) We ask forgiveness for some members of the hierarchy who did not take care of these painful situations and kept silent.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Down to the end, please.
LANGFITT: Waiting for a tram after the Mass, Michael O'Connell, a retired engineer who carried his own folding stool for the event, said he appreciated the pope's words.
MICHAEL O'CONNELL: Actually, he was very, very candid and pretty direct. He spoke about all the hurt that's taken place in the church and asked for forgiveness.
LANGFITT: What did you think of that?
O'CONNELL: I think it's long overdue, but he has a big task ahead of him.
UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) We shall overcome. We shall overcome.
LANGFITT: Across town, more than a thousand people rallied to demand the truth and justice for victims. The gospel song, associated with the American civil rights movement, underscored that many in attendance saw the Catholic Church as an oppressor, including Anne Conway, a retired teacher.
ANNE CONWAY: I really despise the Catholic Church and everything that it stands for and the damage that it's done to everybody in terms of sexual repression, the brutality and the abuse that it's inflicted on so many innocent children in this country.
LANGFITT: Well before Mass yesterday, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington, dropped a bombshell in an 11-page letter. He said he had told Pope Francis five years ago that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., faced extensive allegations of sexual misconduct. But Vigano said the pope did nothing. McCarrick resigned last month but maintains his innocence. Vigano's letter took the form of a political attack and contained factual errors. The pope dismissed the letter - quote, "I will not say a single word on this," the pope told reporters. "Read the statement attentively and make your own judgment." But based on the church's track record, allegations of inaction didn't surprise the pope's many critics here. Martin Grehan, a local government researcher, attended yesterday's protest.
MARTIN GREHAN: We've had cardinals and bishops here who - they knew about abuse for years. They were covering it up. They were moving people around from diocese to diocese, sending them abroad to places like Africa and Asia, Australia, where they would abuse again. This pope has a better PR than the previous two popes, I think, in relation to abuse. But, like, I just - I don't believe a word he comes out with, you know?
LANGFITT: The pope arrived home last night, following a visit that, in many ways, only demonstrated how much the church's authority has collapsed in Ireland. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Dublin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.