Pope expected to confront sexual abuse scandals during Ireland visit

Almost 40 years on from the last papal visit to Ireland, Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin later for the start of an historic two-day visit.

He will arrive under very different circumstances from John Paul II, who almost half the island's population turned out to see in 1979 at a time when the nation was shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.

Hundreds of thousands of people are still expected to welcome Francis during his tour of the capital city and Co Mayo, but the Pontiff will witness a country that has undergone seismic social changes in the past four decades - and it comes as scandals of abuse and cover-up leave the church fighting for respect and relevance.

As well as pilgrims, the Pope will be met by protesters angry at how the church dealt with multiple clerical sex abuse scandals.

Francis will meet a number of abuse victims in a private meeting amid expectation he will use his public utterances elsewhere to confront the emotive issue.

Father Michael Murtagh said the decades of abuse within religious institutions has been "the biggest challenge" for the church and caused many faithful to "lose trust".

Speaking to ITV News the priest said he hoped the visit would bring about change.

"I hope he adresses the abuse crisis because that's huge.

"Their pain is horrendous and I hope it's not just words that there will be action taken."

Earlier this week, Pope Francis wrote a 2,000 word letter to Catholics in which he condemned the crime of sexual abuse by priests.

The pontiff demanded accountability in response to new revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.But many abuse survivors feel more needs to be done.

An art Installation by Mannix Flynn in Dublin City centre. Credit: PA

Voicing their anger and frustration, those survivors have been hanging Vatican flags upside down and erecting an art installation in Dublin’s main tourist area as a distress signal to Pope Francis.

The Somebody’s Child site at Exchange Street in Temple Bar had nine wooden panels erected on Thursday, with art and graphicsdetailing the stages of harm endured from child sexual abuse.

The work was installed by local politician Mannix Flynn, who was subjected to sexual and physical abuse by a priest from age 11,and says he wants the church to admit their guilt in a cover-up.

The Vatican said on Tuesday that Pope Francis will meet survivors, following demands from campaigners for action, accountability and justice for those who were affected.

But another of the many thousands of survivor, Colm O' Gorman said "the Pope just needs to tell the truth and acknowledge that [there was a cover-up]."

"Because from that then all the other steps that are necessesary [to heal] can begin to happen," he added.

Francis is ostensibly in Ireland to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) - a major global church event focused on promoting family values.

However, he will also fulfil a number of other engagements, including meetings with President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

With Ireland in the midst of a high-profile homelessness problem, the Pope will also meet a number of impacted families at a centre run by a religious order.

Around 100,000 people are expected to line the streets of Dublin city centre on Saturday afternoon as the Pope passes through in his famous Pope Mobile.

In the evening he will join 80,000 pilgrims at a musical festival in the landmark Croke Park Gaelic Athletic Association stadium.

On Sunday the Pope will fly west to Co Mayo where he will follow in the footsteps of John Paul II and take part in a religious service at a Holy shrine in Knock.

He will then return to Dublin for the closing centrepiece of the WMOF event - an outdoor Mass in front of an expected congregation of half a million people.