POPE: I BLAME IRISH BISHOPS; Victims Reject Pontiff's Apology as Church Hierarchy Keep Their Jobs; Apology, Condemnation ...but No Punishment
Byline: Neil Michael, Aiden Corkery and Mick Browne
THE POPE yesterday apologised to survivors of clerical sex abuse and acknowledged that they had been 'betrayed' by the Church.
In a strongly worded papal letter - the first to addressing sex abuse within the Church - he expressed 'shame and remorse' about the 'criminal acts' committed by priests and religious here.
He also admitted that Irish bishops had 'failed, at times grievously' and condemned their 'grave errors in judgment and failures in leadership'.
However the Pope announced no disciplinary sanctions against paedophile priests, nor further resignations among the bishops whose failures he had pinpointed.
Nor did he accept the Vatican's responsibility for the 30-year cover-up of abuse scandals here and abroad.
Abuse survivors said the letter, which has been read around the world, failed to take decisive action to prove that the Church was prepared to face its shameful past.
One In Four executive director Maeve Lewis said: 'Pope Benedict has passed up a glorious opportunity to address the core issue in the clerical sexual abuse scandal.
'This is the deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children.' She added: 'The Pope speaks only of failures in the Irish Church - and neglects the role of the Vatican.
'If the Church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial.'
The head of the Church here, Primate of All Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady - whose own involvement in a sex abuse investigation in 1975 has led to an escalation of the on-going crisis in the Church., as well as calls for him to resign - welcomed the letter.
He said he hoped it would be interpreted and received as an opportunity for 'rebirth' in the Church and across the island and he urged people to read the missive with 'an open heart and in a spirit of faith'.
The letter - which was first mooted when Irish bishops were summoned to Rome in the wake of the Murphy Report - was published on the Vatican's website at 11am and covered seven pages in unusually informal language.
It contained the most powerful apology issued by any Pope regarding the issue of sex abuse.
Benedict - who is himself being linked to suggestions of an abuse cover-up in his native Germany - told Irish abuse victims: 'You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured.
'Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings.
'It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.' Before making his apology, the Pontiff had gone into the reasons he was writing the letter and the background to the clerical child sex-abuse scandal in Ireland.
He said: 'I have been deeply disturbed by the information that has come to light regarding the abuse of children by members of the Church in Ireland. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many (survivors) have experienced.' Next, the Pope appealed to the faith of abuse victims.
'I ask you not to lose hope,' he said. 'It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin.
'Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering.' He reminded the faithful of the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland down through the centuries.
'Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval monastic culture.
The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals, all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe. Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church in their native land,' Pope Benedict wrote.
'In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone - a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle - who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.' But the Pontiff then went on to talked about the effect of 'fast-paced social change' in modern Ireland. And he seemed to hint that the scandals in the Church were prompted by a falling off in religious practice - rather than the other way round.
He continued: 'All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.
'Significant, too, was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel.' In fact, critics pointed out yesterday, many of the worst cases of abuse occurred at a time when the Church was still all-powerful and Irish observance of the sacraments was among the highest in Europe.
They argued too that the Pope's thesis failed to recognise that in recent years, many former Catholics stopped going to Mass and confession precisely because of the sex-abuse scandals and the hierarchy's reaction to them.
In a section in which he addressed his own personal experiences of meeting abuse victims, Pope Benedict wrote: 'On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, "to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes" (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).
There was disappointment, too, with the section dealing directly the 'priests and religious who have abused children'.
Though strongly worded, it fell short of sanctions against them - something that has already served to infuriate survivors of abuse .
Some observers described the comments about Irish bishops as the equivalent of a papal 'wrap on the knuckles', with one going so far as to call them 'a sharp kick in the shins'.
He wrote: 'You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents.
'You must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.
'You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres.
'Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions.
'Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.' He encouraged paedophile priests to examine their conscience, and to 'take responsibility for the sins you have committed.' He also said they should pray a lot and seek to 'atone personally' for their actions.
The Pope wrote about 'God's justice' but stopped short of telling the perpetrators to hand themselves in to the civil authorities.
And although he says they should 'openly acknowledge' their guilt and that they should submit themselves to the 'demands of justice', he does not specify civil or State justice.
To his 'brother bishops', he wrote: 'It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the longestablished norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse.
'Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations.' He added: 'I recognise how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice.
'Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred.
'All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.' Yet the letter contained no reference to the possibility of further resignations or other sanctions. However, Pope Benedict did promised to overhaul the way the Church recruits priests and nuns and announced an Apostolic Visitation - a high-level investigation carried out by Papal representatives into specific issues - 'of certain dioceses in Ireland'.
He added: 'Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies found.
'Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates.'
He also blamed 'a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person.'
HAPPY: Cardinal Sean Brady welcomed the letter
NON MEA CULPA: Pope Benedict's apology, but with no concrete action, has divided opinion
RIFT: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, right, criticised bishops like Donal Murray, above, who were named in the Murphy Report…
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Publication information: Article title: POPE: I BLAME IRISH BISHOPS; Victims Reject Pontiff's Apology as Church Hierarchy Keep Their Jobs; Apology, Condemnation ...but No Punishment. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Mail on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: March 21, 2010. Page number: 1. © 2009 Solo Syndication Limited. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.