Dublin, Aug 25: Pope Francis arrived in Ireland on Saturday on the first papal visit to the majority Roman Catholic nation in almost 40 years amid one of the worst sexual abuse scandals the Church has yet faced. In a relatively subdued reception compared to other papal visits, the Pontiff was greeted at the Dublin Airport by Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney with his wife and three young daughters, who gave him a bouquet, CNN reported. The Pope, 81, was expected to meet victims of clerical sex abuse later in the day. He will also meet President Michael Higgins and Indian-origin Prime Minister Leo Varadkar during the 32-hour visit, which falls just a few days after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of clerical pedophilia and coverups.
The Ireland that he is visiting is a different country to that which greeted Pope John Paul II in 1979. Since the Polish pope's visit, there have been huge changes in public attitudes to social issues including abortion, contraception, divorce and same-sex marriage. Still, the Argentine Pope remains highly popular in Ireland and tens of thousands of people were expected at Dublin's Croke Park stadium for a concert-style event to mark the Catholic Church's triennial World Festival of Families that falls this week. Hundreds of thousands more will attend a Mass celebrated by the Pope at the city's Phoenix Park on Sunday, with all 500,000 tickets for the free event booked out. However, the Pope was also expected to face protests over the Church's handling of the clerical abuse scandal. One, dubbed "Stand for Truth", will take place at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin's Parnell Square at the same time of the Mass.
Some protesters said they booked tickets for the Phoenix Park event but will deliberately not use them as a form of silent protest against the Church. Organizers of the "Say Nope to the Pope" protest said they hoped to show solidarity to abuse victims and "show the Church they don't have the control they used to". On Tuesday, the grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a report that 300 Catholic priests across the US state sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by church leaders.
The investigation, one of the broadest inquiries into church sex abuse in American history, identified 1,000 child victims, but said there were likely thousands more. Amid rising international outrage, the Vatican confirmed this week that the Pope would meet privately with victims of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland during his visit.