Irish bishops must face abuse fallout

By  By John Thavis and Sarah Delaney, Catholic News Service
  • February 19, 2010
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY  - Pope Benedict XVI said priestly sexual abuse was a “heinous crime” and a grave sin, and he urged Irish bishops to act courageously to repair their failures to deal properly with such cases.

At the end of a two-day Vatican summit on the sex abuse scandal in Ireland, the Vatican said in a statement Feb. 16 that “errors of judgment and omissions” were at the heart of the crisis. It said church leaders recognized the sense of “pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame” that those errors have provoked among many Irish Catholics.

“All those present recognized that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the church’s leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching,” the statement said.

“While realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, (the Pope) challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage,” it said.

The Vatican said the Pope also had expressed hope that the summit would help the bishops unify and “speak with one voice” as they identify concrete steps to bring healing to those who have been abused and restore the church’s moral credibility.

Following the meeting, Irish bishops said they had been able to engage in “frank and open” discussions with the Pope and Vatican officials and that they had been encouraged by the encounter.

Cardinal Sean Brady, president of the Irish bishops’ conference, said that throughout the meeting “the victims were central to all of our discussions, and the victims remain our priority.” He said that there had been “a failure of leadership” on the part of the Irish hierarchy and they fully understand the “disillusionment, anger, shame and sense of betrayal” expressed by the victims.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said the meeting produced no specific policy decisions, nor was it intended to do so. He said the encounter, which included 24 Irish bishops and 10 top Vatican officials, was aimed at dialogue and direction-setting, and in that sense was a success. The recovery from the scandal will be “a very long process,” he added.

The Pope convened the bishops in response to the continuing fallout from the scandal, following an independent report that faulted the church for its handling of 325 sex abuse claims in the archdiocese of Dublin in the years 1975-2004. The report said bishops sometimes protected abusive priests and were apparently more intent on protecting the church’s reputation and assets than on helping the victims.

The Pope had earlier expressed his sense of outrage over the revelations, and was writing a special pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on the subject. Participants at the Vatican meeting discussed a draft of the letter, which was expected to be published during Lent, Lombardi said.

There has been widespread indignation among Irish Catholics following the revelations of the sex abuse cases and the way they were handled by the bishops, detailed in a report last November by an independent commission. Pope Benedict held a preliminary meeting with two Irish bishops in December.

Four bishops criticized in the Irish report have offered their resignation, but so far the Pope has officially accepted only one of them. Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway and Kilmacduagh, also criticized in the report, has rejected demands for his resignation.

Brady said the meeting was the beginning of a process and that “ultimately the Holy Father will give us a message of encouragement to deal with this problem honestly and courageously.”

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