Pope Francis vowed on Saturday to end the sexual exploitation of children by clergy during a highly-charged visit to once deeply Catholic Ireland, telling victims the corruption and cover-up of abuse amounted to human excrement.
On the first papal visit to the country in almost four decades, Francis used a speech at a state event also attended by abuse survivors to acknowledge the Church's failure in not addressing such "repugnant crimes" and said he sought a greater commitment to eliminating the "scourge."
He later met privately for 90 minutes at the Vatican embassy with eight victims of clerical, religious and institutional abuse, Reuters reports.
In a statement, representatives from the Survivors of Mother and Baby Homes group said Francis condemned corruption and cover-up within the Church as "caca," an Italian and Spanish word for human excrement.
"Very powerful meeting. He listened with a genuine interest," said Clodagh Malone, who was born in one of the state-backed homes for unwed mothers and adopted at 10-weeks-old.
The pope earlier spoke publicly, saying he could not "fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the Church charged with responsibility for their protection and education."
Years of sexual abuse scandals have shattered the credibility of the Church as a moral leader in Ireland and elsewhere, driving many to renounce their faith. In the past three years, Irish voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying the wishes of the Church.
"The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community," the pontiff said.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who last year became Ireland's first gay leader, told Francis that the wounds of clerical child abuse that stained the Irish state were still open and there was much to be done to bring about justice and healing for victims.
A damning report last week into abuse in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, which followed scandals in Australia and Chile, was all too tragically familiar in Ireland, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.