DUBLIN (AFP) — Thousands marched through central Dublin Wednesday to protest the decades-long abuse of children in Catholic church-run institutions, as Irish bishops apologised anew for the "heinous crimes."
The silent marchers wore white ribbons and many carried children's shoes which the organisers asked them to leave outside parliament "to symbolise the lives shattered in these institutions".
Ireland's Catholic bishops, meeting for their summer conference, later expressed their shame at the abuse perpetrated by religious orders, which was revealed in an official report last month.
They asked for forgiveness, saying: "We are ashamed, humbled and repentant that our people strayed so far from their Christian ideals."
Four survivors leading the rally in Dublin laid wreaths -- two white and two black -- outside the Leinster House parliament building "in memory of the living and dead" in the state-funded institutions.
Police said some 7,000 people joined the march, while the Irish Times reported up to 15,000.
Last month an official inquiry led by Judge Sean Ryan reported that sexual, physical and emotional abuse was "endemic" in industrial and reformatory schools, orphanages and other childcare institutions dating back to the 1930s.
The findings of the report, which followed a nine-year investigation, have caused widespread shock in mainly Catholic Ireland.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said he was unable to attend the march, organised by the Survivors of Institutional Abuse Ireland (SOIAI), because he was attending the Catholic bishops' general meeting. He sent a representative.
After the meeting, the bishops said they had discussed the report and in a statement said it "represents the most recent disturbing indictment of a culture that was prevalent in the Catholic Church in Ireland for far too long".
"Heinous crimes were perpetrated against the most innocent and vulnerable, and vile acts with life-lasting effects were carried out under the guise of the mission of Jesus Christ," they said.
"This abuse represents a serious betrayal of the trust which was placed in the church. For this we ask forgiveness."
Earlier this week Martin and Ireland's top cleric, Cardinal Sean Brady, briefed Pope Benedict XVI on the findings. Martin said the pontiff had been "visibly upset".
A judicial commission is also probing abuse allegations involving priests working in parishes in the archdiocese of Dublin -- the country's biggest -- and the diocese of Cloyne in the south. A report is due later this year.
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