POPE: I BLAME IRISH BISHOPS; Victims Reject Pontiff's Apology as Church Hierarchy Keep Their Jobs; Apology, Condemnation ...but No Punishment

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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. …