The Pope has told Irish Catholics that it's "a mystery" why priests and other clergy abused children entrusted in their care, lamenting that it undermined faith in the church in an "appalling" way.
In an eight-minute pre-recorded and widely cited address to almost 80,000 pilgrims in Dublin, the pontiff said:
"Thankfulness and joy at such a great history of faith and love have recently been shaken in an appalling way by the revelation of sins committed by priests and consecrated persons against people entrusted to their care.
"Instead of showing them the path towards Christ, towards God, instead of bearing witness to his goodness, they abused people and undermined the credibility of the Church's message.
"How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord's body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of Penance have offended in this way? It remains a mystery. Yet evidently, their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit."
The pope added: "Your forbears in the church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives."
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The comments were prepared for the closing Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, attended by 75,000 Catholics, including Ireland's prime minister and president, the Associated Press reported.
The weeklong congress — dubbed the "spiritual Olympics" of the Catholic Church, according to the Belfast Telegraph — is held by the Vatican every four years in a different part of the world.
The last time the event was held in Ireland, in 1932, the Catholic Church "held a firm grasp over the Irish people and close to a million people packed the Phoenix Park for the final public mass," the Telegraph wrote.
This time, the church in Ireland is facing deep anger over child abuse cover-up, with surveys showing declining weekly Mass attendance.
The Tablet cited the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, as calling on the Church to reach out to those Catholics who felt alienated from their faith and the victims of "criminal" clerical sexual abuse.
"In our prayers in these days we have kept in our prayers and in our hearts all those who suffered criminal abuse within the community of Christ's Church and all those who feel in any way alienated from the Church and who have not experienced in our Church the love of Jesus Christ," he said.