Pope tells survivors that those who cover up abuse are ‘caca’

Pontiff used the Spanish word in a meeting with survivors of clerical sex abuse

Pope Francis referred to those who cover up child abuse in the Catholic Church as "caca" – the Spanish word which the official translator interpreted as 'filth you would see in the toilet' – during a meeting in Dublin with abuse survivors, according to two eyewitnesses.

On Saturday afternoon, the pontiff met with survivors of clerical sex abuse in Ireland and also people who spent time in industrial schools, seminaries and mother-and-baby homes, in the Papal Nuncio residence on the Navan Road.

Clodagh Malone and Paul Redmond said that at the meeting the pope expressed his frustration with those in the Vatican who would cover up abuse.

Both Ms Malone and Mr Redmond were born in mother-and-baby homes and have campaigned for justice for mothers who were forced by such institutions to give up their children for adoption.


Mr Redmond said: “The pope said the cover-up of abuse in the Vatican was ‘caca’. The translator interpreted it as ‘filth you would see in the toilet’.”

The pope was asked at the hour-and-a-half-long meeting to use his influence to get the religious orders who ran the mother-and-baby homes to “acknowledge their actions and issue an open and unqualified apology” to mothers and their children.

The meeting took place on the first day of the pope’s visit to Ireland, the first by a pope in 39 years.

Eight survivors were present in total, including Marie Collins, who resigned from the Vatican's Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Fr Paddy McCafferty, who was abused as a seminarian in Wexford, and Bernadette Fahy, who spent much of her childhood in the notorious Goldenbridge Orphanage, were also there.

A week ago Fr McCafferty, told his Belfast congregation Pope Francis should cancel his visit to Ireland because of the issue of clerical sex abuse.

As a seminarian in Wexford and later in Northern Ireland, Fr McCafferty was abused by former priest James Donaghy. In 2012 Donaghy was jailed for 10 years for that abuse and also for abusing two altar boys.

Fr McCafferty told his congregation the harm he suffered was extensive and long-lasting. “Others have suffered worse and may never be healed in this life,” he added. “The actions of predators in the priesthood have been termed ‘soul murder’. The seriousness of their evil actions cannot be overemphasised. What they do to innocent children and young people can result in a lifetime of relentless suffering,” he said.

On Saturday the survivors handed a letter to the pope, in English and in Spanish, telling him that an estimated 100,000 mothers were forcibly separated from their babies in Ireland.

The letter said these mothers were told it was a “mortal sin” for them to try and contact their children.

“As an act of healing Pope Francis, we ask you to make it clear to the elderly and dying community of natural mothers and adoptees, that there was no sin in the reunion.

"It should be encouraged and facilitated by the Catholic Church. Many natural mothers and adoptees will be in attendance at your Mass [at the Phoenix Park on Sunday]."

Tuam home

The letter did not directly mention the Tuam mother-and-baby home, on the site of which the remains of babies have been found in a septic tank. Records have been found of 796 babies who died at the home without a proper burial.

However, the letter criticised the orders of Irish nuns who ran Ireland’s “notorious mother-and-baby homes where more than 6,000 babies and children died, as well as young mothers”.

The letter added: “The nuns have never taken responsibility for their wilful neglect. We ask you Pope Francis to publicly call on these nuns to acknowledge their actions and issue an open and unqualified apology.

“To all survivors of these institutions, we also request that you call on these nuns to immediately commit to paying the full costs of the current inquiry (the mother-and-baby homes commission of investigation) and any redress that might be awarded.”

The pope agreed that at the end of Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday he would tell mothers who had given their children up for adoption that there was no sin in now looking for their children.

Mr Redmond said the pope sounded “genuinely shocked to hear about the 6,000 babies who died and the 3,000 banished babies and the vaccine trials and lifted his hands to his head in shock”.

Ms Malone said the meeting had been “excellent” and the pope had given each of the survivors a medal with an image of St Patrick on it.

She added: “We’re absolutely delighted with the meeting. Everybody got to say their bit. He listened. He answered.

“He asked us when he didn’t understand something could we re-explain it. He was very genuine. He recognised that we have suffered as survivors.”

She added that he looked exhausted after a long day.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times