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Pope denounces abuse; Irish critics of Church pin the blame on the Vatican

February 16, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the sexual abuse of children by priests, and the failure of Irish bishops to curb that abuse, during a 2-day meeting with the Irish hierarchy that concluded on February 16.

In a formal statement issued at the conclusion of the talks-- in which the Pope and the Irish bishops were joined by the top leaders of the Roman Curia-- the Vatican openly acknowledged "the failure of Irish Church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious." That failure on the part of the Irish hierarchy, the statement added, had caused "a breakdown in trust in the Church's leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching."

Pope Benedict had summoned all of the Irish bishops to Rome in recognition of a crisis shaking the Church in that country after the release of the Murphy Commission report, which detailed a parttern of abuse and cover-up in the Dublin archdiocese.

In his own remarks to the Irish bishops, the Pope said that "sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image." The Pope went on to say that the abuse of children, and the failure of the hierarchy to stop that abuse, reflected a "more general crisis of faith" in the Church. He urged the bishops to respond to the crisis with "determination and resolve."

Pope Benedict has announced his plans to write a pastoral letter to the Irish Church on the subject of abuse. The chief Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, indicated that the Pope's letter should be released before the end of Lent. The Pontiff had encouraged the Irish Church to use the pentitential season as a time for reflection on the scandal.

Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of the meetings, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh said that the primary focus of the Irish hierarchy would be on the welfare of sex-abuse victims. He detailed the plans of the Irish bishops to care for victims and to adopt "best practices" programs to protect children from abuse in the future.

In Ireland, critics of the Church made the claim that the sex-abuse problem was ultimately caused by Vatican policies, and some even made the unsupported assertion that the Holy See had thwarted efforts by Irish bishops to rein in abusive priests. Michael Kelly of the Irish Catholic pointed out that any such assertion "is not backed up by the Murphy Report itself." Existing Church law gave bishops ample authority to discipline priests who were engaged in misconduct, and Vatican dicasteries complied quickly with any requests for disciplinary action from Rome. The source of the problem-- as the Murphy Commission noted-- lay not in the Code of Canon Law but in the Irish bishops' failure to use their proper authority.

Nevertheless, spokesmen for abuse victims joined in the effort to deflect criticism onto the Vatican. Maeve Lewis of the group "One in Four" complained that the Vatican had "accepted no responsibility for its role in facilitating the sexual abuse of children." She angrily denounced Pope Benedict for saying that the scandal reflected a failure of faith, saying that suggestion was "deeply insulting to survivors"-- without acknowledging that the Pope was obviously speaking about a failure of faith on the part of the bishops, not the abuse victims.

The American-based group SNAP released its own statement even before the conclusion of the Vatican meetings, saying that the discussions in Rome "aren't designed to heal the wounded or protect the vulnerable, but instead to mollify the flock." The problem, SNAP said, ultimately stems from "a centuries-old, deeply-rooted culture of self-serving secrecy perpetuated by a rigid, ancient, all-male monarchy."


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: opraem - Feb. 16, 2010 11:58 PM ET USA

    when is the vatican going to call the us bishops to account for their 'lapses' in protecting children under their care? will us catholics receive a letter of apology from the pope for the bishops' leadership failures? don't hold your breath. the us bishops think they got away with it. i'm glad i don't have to stand in their place on judgment day. they and the pope need our prayers.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2010 10:41 PM ET USA

    The pope says the sex abuse scandal reflects a more general crisis of faith in the church. He does not say and should have said that the general crisis of faith might have been CAUSED by clerical failures!!!

  • Posted by: MAG - Feb. 16, 2010 5:37 PM ET USA

    "critics of the Church" could simply be abbreviated as "usual suspects" - who don't understand the Polity of Holy Mother Church, the role & responsibility of Bishops, etc. Their comments are not dissimilar to those to Thomas Barnett at I believe Mr. Barnett grew up as a Catholic. We clearly need to improve Catechesis!