‘Shamed’ Pope apologises to Ireland for church sex abuse
But victims say unprecedented letter ‘falls far short’ of addressing their concerns
By Philip Pullella in Rome
Sunday, 21 March 2010
Pope Benedict XVI: ‘You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry’
Pope Benedict XVI apologised yesterday to victims of child sex abuse by clergy in Ireland and ordered an official inquiry there to try to stem a scandal that is gripping the Catholic Church across Europe.
The Pope’s moves over abuse at Irish dioceses and seminaries were the most concrete steps taken since a wave of cases hit Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, but were met with deep disappointment by the victims in Ireland.
In a letter to the people, bishops, priests and victims of child sex abuse in Ireland, the Pope did not make specific reference to churches in other countries. “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry… I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel,” he said, adding: “I can only share in the dismay and sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way the church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.”
The Pope singled out Irish bishops for criticism of their handling of abuse cases, writing: “It must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred.”
But he failed to address widespread calls in Ireland for a radical restructuring of the church there, nor did he say that bishops implicated in the scandal should resign.
Irish victims expressed their deep disappointment. “We feel the letter falls far short of addressing the concerns of the victims,” Maeve Lewis of the group One in Four told Reuters. “There is nothing in this letter to suggest that any new vision of leadership in the Catholic church exists,” she said, adding that it should have addressed the fate of the head of the church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, whose resignation the group wants.
The Pope announced what is known as an “apostolic visitation” of “certain” dioceses, seminaries and religious orders in Ireland. An apostolic visitation is an inquiry in which inspectors meet senior clergy and local church officials to review the way matters were handled in the past, to suggest changes and decide possible disciplinary action.
The letter, the first papal document devoted exclusively to paedophilia, follows a damning Irish government report on widespread child abuse by priests in the Dublin archdiocese. The report, published in November, said the church in Ireland had “obsessively” concealed child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, and operated a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
In recent weeks, the Vatican has tried to contain the damage scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by priests spread across Europe. The latest, in Germany, is especially sensitive for the German-born Pope, who was Munich’s archbishop from 1977 to 1981. More than 100 reports have emerged of abuse at Catholic institutions, including one linked to the prestigious Regensburg choir run by the Pope’s brother from 1964 to 1994.