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He has vowed "zero tolerance" since the start of his pontificate.

A spokesman said he spent 90 minutes with them.

Earlier this week, Pope Francis issued a letter to "the people of God" acknowledging the recent sex abuse scandals and insisting that "the heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced". He added: "I myself share those sentiments".

He said he is "very conscious" of the circumstances of the most vulnerable and emphasized the goodness of the child, which he said is "a precious gift of God, to be cherished, encouraged to develop his or her gifts, and guided to spiritual maturity and human flourishing". But while Benedict is credited with cracking down on abusers, he never acknowledged the Vatican's role in fueling a culture of coverup or sanctioned bishops for failing to protect their flocks from predator priests.

Pope Francis did address that in today's visit - speaking of his pain and shame at the clergy's repellent crimes.

The Ireland that he is visiting is a different country to that which greeted Pope John Paul II in 1979.

Critics of the Church have also been preparing for Francis.

Varadkar plans to tell the Pope that the exclusion of LGBT+ people from the Catholic Church "really hurts".

On Saturday evening, Pope Francis arrived at Croke Park for the World Meeting of Families event as Patrick Bergin performed "Anthem", a song made famous by the late Leonard Cohen.

Earlier this month, the Vatican was rocked by a devastating USA report accused more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania state of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.

The stage design for the Festival of Families will includes a "Circle of Encounter" where Pope Francis will join with families from across the world.

"At times in the past we have failed", he said.

The coalition of survivors of mother and baby homes estimates 100,000 single mothers were forcibly separated from their babies and that 6,000 babies died at the homes. "He could have talked to the people of Ireland, beyond just those who might identity as faithful Catholics".

The protest invites anyone who has "been harmed or abused by the Roman Catholic Church or who wishes to stand in solidarity with those harmed by its actions" to join the event at 3 pm at The Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.

Colm O'Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland, who was abused by a priest for more than two years as a teenager, said the Pope's comments did not go far enough.

More than 37,000 people - majority young Catholics - signed up to attend a Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families that started in Dublin on Tuesday and runs through Sunday, more than twice the number as for the last family rally held in Philadelphia three years ago.

Francis urged the Irish to do just that, to recognize that for all its failings, the Catholic Church has educated and cared for generations of Irish children in times of starvation and great poverty, when no one else would.

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who spoke before the Pope, did not skirt the current abuse revelations that have emerged in Pennsylvania.

Pope Francis also met with Irish President Michael D. Higgins, who said they discussed climate change, poverty, migration and the sex abuse scandal.

"There are dark aspects of the Catholic Church's history, as one of our bishops recently said". "It's a story all too tragically familiar here in Ireland".

Indeed, Ireland's tortured history of abuse has left its mark. In the past three years, Irish voters have approved abortion and gay marriage in referendums, defying Catholic rulings.

A silent vigil will be held on Sunday at the site of a former Church-run home for unwed mothers where an unmarked grave with the remains of hundreds of babies was found in 2014.

Pope Francis will begin the second day of his historic trip to the Republic of Ireland at the Knock Marian shrine in County Mayo.

He did, however, hear about Tuam on Saturday from Ireland's minister for children, Katherine Zappone.

"We can not stay silent as the Vatican uses its power and pomp to forcefully deny the reality of the harm it has done,"organizers wrote on Facebook, where almost 3,000 people had signed up to attend".