Irish abuse victims press new pope for action

Victims of child abuse in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland on Thursday called on newly elected Pope Francis to ensure that clergy who covered up the abuse are held accountable.

"We want proper accountability. Even to this day, we are fighting cases in the redress board, the High Court and the Supreme Court," Tom Hayes of the Alliance Victims Support Group told AFP.

Hayes, who was abused by members of the Christian Brothers at Glin industrial school in County Limerick as a young boy, said the new pope must make it a priority to bring to justice clergy who abused children or covered it up.

"We genuinely would like to think that a Jesuit would be strong enough to meet our concerns, but we feel that he may become too embroiled in the long standing system run within Rome that may have frustrated Pope Benedict," he said.

Benedict XVI, who resigned last month, formally apologised in 2010 to the Irish victims of clerical sex abuse but critics said he failed to follow this up by acting against those responsible.

The resignation of Benedict last month was welcomed by the Survivors of Child Abuse support group in Ireland after "he promised a lot but delivered nothing."

Ireland, where 80 percent of the population are Catholic, has been shocked by a series of reports in recent years that lifted the lid on decades of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Church-run institutions.

Marie Collins, who was sexually abused by a hospital chaplain as a 13-year-old patient in Dublin in the 1960s, said Pope Francis needed to take a hard line with bishops who protected abusers by not bringing complaints to the attention of police.

"I hope he will bring some humility to our bishops, something that has been very lacking," she said.

"We can only wait and see by his actions what he will do about the abuse crisis in the Church or whether he makes his bishops accountable or not.

"That’s an unknown area with this pope, from what we know, he hasn’t had to deal with that before."

Collins added that a more empathetic approach from the Vatican would be welcome.

"That cold, autocratic way of dealing with people and the utterances on so many different areas have been very dogmatic and the way things have been said have been quite cruel and hurtful," she said.

"We know this pope is quite conservative but we hope he will have a better way of communicating."

Michael Mernagh, an Augustinian priest who undertook a nine-day walk from Cork to Dublin as a 70-year-old four years ago to raise awareness of the failure of the Church to respond adequately to allegations of clerical abuse, called on Francis to build on Benedict's apology with action.

"There’s a need for all members of the Church, but particularly the hierarchy and the Vatican itself, to come out in the open and atone, not to just say sorry but to take actions that these things will never happen again," he told AFP.

The Dublin priest urged the new pope to call a third Vatican council "to promote particularly the idea of collegiality with the bishops -- the pope is not there to govern on his own".

Mernagh added: "I think he will be a man that listens and that’s very, very important. Also I think he’s a man that will be acutely aware that he needs to heal the divisions that are within the Catholic Church itself.

"That’s a work in process and is going to be long, long term."