By NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press
VATICAN CITY (AP) – The Vatican said Tuesday that Pope Francis is expected to meet with victims of sexual abuse during his weekend visit to Ireland and speak out about the problem.
Spokesman Greg Burke effectively confirmed the meeting during a briefing Tuesday. He said Francis always meets with victims when he visits countries where abuse “is a reality” and that any information would be released after the fact, based on what the survivors themselves decide.
“The important thing for the pope is to listen,” he said.
Francis is under enormous pressure to speak out strongly against abuse given Ireland’s devastating history of priests who raped and molested children and bishops who covered up for them. The trip is likely to be dominated by the issue given recent revelations of misconduct at the highest levels of the Catholic Church in the U.S., Chile and beyond.
The fact that Burke essentially confirmed a meeting with victims ahead of time – something the Vatican has never before done – was an indication that the Holy See is well aware of the expectations going into the visit.
The original aim of the trip Saturday and Sunday was to close out a big Catholic family rally, the World Meeting of Families. But asked if Francis would weigh in on abuse, Burke noted that the pope will deliver six major speeches during his 36 hours on the ground, and thus “has several opportunities.”
Francis will also pray for abuse victims before a candle in St. Mary’s cathedral in Dublin on Saturday.
Francis has met with victims before in Philadelphia, Chile and at the Vatican. His refusal to do so during a 2016 trip to Mexico riled some victims, given the country is home to the founder of the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, perhaps the most notorious pedophile of the 20th century Catholic Church.
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