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Pope Speaks In Ireland

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Pope Francis is celebrating Mass today before hundreds of thousands in Dublin as he continues to grapple with the church's global sex-abuse scandal. The scandal worsened overnight after a former Vatican official claimed the pontiff ignored sex abuse charges for years against an American cardinal who has since resigned. NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering the story from Dublin. And, Frank, you were speaking with people heading to Mass this morning. What did they say?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, you know, everybody knows here, of course, about the decades of sex abuse and the cover-ups. But they're still planning to spend hours standing in Phoenix Park here in Dublin to listen to the Mass. They say they really want to hear a message of love and the importance of family from Pope Francis. Now, you know, many young Irish no longer attend Mass, Melissa, but I was talking to a woman named Eva Lawlor (ph). She's 15. She had a Vatican City flag draped over shoulders, and she's really grateful to see people turning out today. Here's how she put it.

EVA LAWLOR: It's been as if the pope's visit is a bad thing more than a good thing. But just being here, it's great to see that so many people are happy that he's here and are respecting him - because in the media, they were just talking about the abuse - and that did happen, and I'm not denying that, and I'm glad that the pope is acknowledging that. But he's a good man, as well. It's not his fault.

BLOCK: Frank, the last pope to visit Ireland was John Paul II back in 1979. How did the crowds today compare with the crowds back then?

LANGFITT: Nothing like what you would have seen back then. They're expecting maybe 500,000 to 600,000 today. Back with John Paul II, you're talking well over a million. And that's really a sign of how deeply the scandals have wrecked the church's standing here. I was talking to a woman named Sarah O'Rourke (ph). She was also on her way to Mass this morning. She teaches religion in a primary school. And she said she was actually careful about who she told that she was going to Mass today. This is what - this is our exchange.

SARAH O'ROURKE: You know, it's not everyone you'd say you were going to see - say to that you were going to see the pope. You know...

LANGFITT: You mean there's some people you didn't tell?

O'ROURKE: ...Unless I nearly was asked or I knew it would get a good reception, I didn't say anything. Now, maybe that's the wrong approach to take, but you know what you mean? It wasn't a popular thing to say.

BLOCK: That's interesting. Frank, tell us about the newest allegations. Who is making them, and what are the claims against the pope?

LANGFITT: His name is Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington. And he says that he told the pope - he told Pope Francis five years ago that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington faced allegations of sexual abuse and says Francis didn't do anything about it. Now, this is a bombshell claim that was made in an 11-page letter. McCarrick resigned, actually, last month, but he's maintaining his innocence. And, you know, if it's true what he's saying about the pope, this kind of gets to the heart of the criticism that many clerical sex abuse survivors that I've been talking to here have been making, and that's that sense that, after decades of scandal, there's really no accountability in the Vatican.

BLOCK: And briefly, Frank, what's the Vatican's response?

LANGFITT: No comment right now. National Catholic Reporter - they've already pointed out some factual errors in the letter. And it's worth noting that Vigano was shoved out earlier on - in an unrelated controversy. Of course, the timing of this - it's clearly designed to embarrass Pope Francis during this big, high-profile visit.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Frank Langfitt in Dublin. Thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.