As pope visits Ireland, protesters demand justice over clerical abuse

Protestors against clerical abuse and the visit of Pope Francis gather at the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin, calling for gay and trans gender recognition by the Catholic Church among other demands. (AFP Photo/Paul FAITH)

Dublin (AFP) – As the faithful flocked to witness Pope Francis celebrate mass on Sunday, protesters gathered in central Dublin to demand recognition, reconciliation and reparations for the historic wrongs of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

In a city decked out in yellow-and-white Vatican flags, thousands of demonstrators — some visibly emotional — marched under the rainbow flag, calling for action from a Church they say is yet to redress decades of abuse.

The “Nope to the Pope” demonstration called for gay and transgender recognition, a clearer separation of religion and state in Ireland and the acceptance of contraception by the Vatican — as well as action on abuse.

“I think he should get on his knees and beg forgiveness of the people of Ireland,” Lisa Barcaen, who was dressed as a nun with fake blood on her hands, told AFP.

Placards read “Victims need more than prayers”, “Pope Francis you’re out of chances” and “Religion is fine, rape is not” as the crowd heard speeches, songs and works by Irish poet Seamus Heaney in the light drizzle.

William Gorry, founder of Residential Institutions Survivor’s Network (RISN), broke down in tears as he addressed the crowd, explaining the abuse he suffered when he was taken into care as a boy.

“It was all done behind closed doors, behind walls”, the 53-year-old said.

Gorry also revealed to the crowd he has asked to have his baptism and membership of the Catholic Church revoked, for their non-acceptance of his homosexuality.

His thoughts were mirrored by trans protester Sonia Kolasinska. “If the Church excludes me there is something wrong with the Church”, she said.

– Stand for Truth –

The protest later merged with the “Stand for Truth” demonstration — where some 5,000 had gathered to hear more speeches and music.

Many wore t-shirts, badges and held signs from the recent successful campaign to repeal Ireland’s strict abortion laws — resulting in a landslide referendum vote considered by many to be a bellwether poll indicating the Church’s waning grip on Celtic culture.

“This country went from one of the most conservative countries in the EU to having a groundswell of people who want change”, said Kieran Allen, handing out leaflets calling for a separation of Church and state.

“And it’s only just starting,” he said.

Children wrote out the names of the 796 babies who died at a mother and baby home in Tuam in central Ireland, believed to have been buried in a mass grave in a disused septic tank.

Colm O’Gorman, organiser, abuse survivor and head of Amnesty Ireland, told the crowd: “This is the new Ireland, an Ireland that refuses to be told how to love and care for its own people”.

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