“To survivors of abuse of power, conscience and sexual abuse, recognizing what they have told me, I would like to put these crimes before the mercy of the Lord and ask forgiveness for them,” Francis told a mass attended by more than 100,000 people at Dublin’s Phoenix Park, a lower turnout than expected. This is the first papal visit to Ireland in 39 years.
“We apologize for some members of the hierarchy who did not take care of these painful situations and kept silent," he said.
The Pope used the penitential rite of the Mass to list the many abuses caused by clerical heads and on each occasion, asked for forgiveness.
“We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church.
“In a special way, we ask pardon for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions run by males or female religious and by other members of the church, and we ask for forgiveness for those cases of manual work that so many young women and men were subjected to. We ask for forgiveness.”
Years of sexual abuse scandals have shattered the credibility of the Church which four decades ago dominated Irish society. In the past three years, Irish voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying the Vatican.
Pressure on the pope over church abuse increased elsewhere on Sunday when a former top Vatican official accused Francis of having known of allegations of sex abuse by a prominent U.S. cardinal for five years before accepting his resignation last month.
The Pope has begged for God’s forgiveness for the “open wound” of church abuse in Ireland as he called for “firm and decisive” action to secure “truth and justice”.
At his address in Knock, Francis said no-one could be failed to be moved by stories of young abuse victims who were “robbed of their innocence” and “left scarred by painful memories”.
The pontiff said: “This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice.
“I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”
He has now departed the Shrine for his return to Dublin for the closing mass of the World Meeting of Families in the Phoenix Park Sunday afternoon.
Pope Francis vowed on Saturday to end the sexual exploitation of children by clergy during a highly-charged visit to once deeply Catholic Ireland and, according to victims, said 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 that was also attended by some abuse survivors to acknowledge that it was to the Church's shame it had not addressed these "repugnant crimes" and said he sought a greater commitment to eliminating this "scourge".
He later met privately for 90 minutes at the Vatican embassy with eight victims of clerical, religious and institutional abuse.
Those who met the pope included Marie Collins and Paul Redmond, two leading campaigners. Some victims of abuse had wanted for Francis to meet such campaigners who they said would challenge him on the Vatican’s role in the scandals.
Paul Redmond was born in one of Ireland's church-run "Mother and Baby Homes" where he was separated from his mother after 17 days, a common practice at the time.
"We are looking for unqualified wholehearted apologies and certainly we got one today from the Pope but whether that will translate into a huge official apology from the Church is another matter but it's whether that translates into actual actions, that's what really matters to us," said Redmond.
Pope Francis said he is shamed by the church handling of abuse scandals and Redmond said when he talked to them about it he used some very strong language.
It is not just the sexual abuse scandals that have shattered the Church's credibility in Ireland, there are other matters, such as the enforced separation of unmarried mothers from their babies, as happened to Paul.
"On the issue tomorrow, I'm sure he will say, tell the mothers of Ireland who lost their children to adoption, to tell them it's no sin to go look for your children. Even that little bit of action, even that little movement, it does mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people. So, a little more hope in my heart tonight.," added Redmond.
In a statement, the 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.
The statement said that after the pope used the word, his translator explained that it meant "literally filth as one sees in a toilet."
A Vatican spokesman had no comment on the details of what was said in the meeting.
A Vatican official said he would not be surprised that the pope had used the word. "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 about abuse, 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 driven many from the Church. In the past three years, Irish voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying its wishes.
"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."
In unprepared remarks, Francis added a reference to a letter he addressed last Monday to all the world's Catholics on the abuse crisis, saying he wanted it to signal "a greater commitment to eliminating this scourge in the Church, at any cost".
More than three-quarters of Ireland's population flocked to see Pope John Paul II in 1979 when divorce and contraception were illegal. Francis was greeted by far smaller numbers.
Large images of abuse victims and the hashtag #Stand4Truth - promoting a gathering of survivors and supporters elsewhere in Dublin when the pope says mass on Sunday - were projected onto some of the capital's most recognised buildings on Friday night.
They included Dublin's Pro Cathedral, where on Saturday Francis prayed before a candle commemorating abuse victims that were first lit in 2011.
However, flag-waving supporters still gathered five or six deep along many parts of Francis's route by popemobile, although in other parts he was greeted by a more sparse turnout. "I think it's absolutely marvellous.
There are one or two objectors, but I think they should keep their objections to themselves and get into the spirit of the thing," said Christina O'Riordan, a 76-year-old retired teacher. Despite changes in Irish society, Francis asked that Ireland would not forget "the powerful strains of the Christian message" that have sustained it in the past, and can continue to do so in the future. About a quarter of the 2.7 million who greeted John Paul II were expected to turn out for Francis.
"The crowd is smaller than I thought. It's a good crowd, but wouldn't be near what you'd get for (Saint) Patrick's Day," said Christy Moore, 59, referring to Ireland's national holiday as he sold papal flags wearing an 'I love Pope Francis' hat. "It was much much bigger (in 1979).
There's not that much interest in it now."
A Time for action, not words
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 was 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, Varadkar said, adding that the time had come for a very different Ireland to build a new relationship with the Church.
"Holy Father, I ask that you use your office and influence to ensure this is done here in Ireland and across the world,"
Varadkar said. "We must now ensure that from words flow actions."
In other protests, gay rights activists hung rainbow umbrellas from a nearby bridge while a silent vigil will be held on Sunday at the site of a former "Mother and Baby Home" where an unmarked grave with the remains of hundreds of babies was found in 2014.
The pope, who travelled through Dublin in a blue Skoda in keeping with his shunning of limousines and bulletproof cars, said Church leaders needed to remedy past mistakes and adopt stringent norms to ensure they do not happen again.