22 Nov 2010

Pope rebukes Irish Bishops over sex abuse scandal but fails to admit his own role in keeping Vatican files on abusers secret

The Australian - February 17, 2010

When sorry just isn't enough

by David Sharrock | The Australian

Irish sexual abuse needs a strong response

IF it were not so grave an issue, the spectacle of Ireland's most senior clergy dressed in their finery and lining up to defend themselves, one by one, in a seven-minute address to the Pope might have all the comic ingredients of a public school headmaster ticking off to his prefects.

But a great deal rides on the outcome of the Vatican meeting [see article below], an extraordinarily rare conference called to consider the damage wrought to the Roman Catholic church by hundreds of Irish pedophile priests who assaulted their young charges for decades, seemingly with impunity. The past has finally caught up with them.

Last year, two reports came to devastating conclusions about the role of religion in the life of the state. The first found there was systemic sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Catholic-run residential institutes for children. The second said the hierarchy had deliberately covered up the priests' crimes, protecting them from the law, in order to save the church's reputation.

The decline of a church that once ruled Ireland's morals with an iron grip was already under way before the sexual abuse scandals began to emerge more than a decade ago. Mass attendance numbers increased thanks to the inflow of Polish workers during the Celtic tiger period but many have left, leaving parishes wrestling with how to offer services in steadily emptying churches with a pool of ageing priests. Ireland remains a culturally Catholic country but the favourite nation of many a pontiff is no longer as quick to stoop to kiss his ring. Practising Irish Catholics expect more from the Pope than mere expressions of regret in a pastoral letter, which he has promised after listening to his Irish bishops.

Until now, the Vatican's stance has appeared to suggest that the scandals engulfing Ireland are a domestic matter for the Irish.

On Sunday, the Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy, said he did not expect the pastoral letter to be issued soon, such are the complexities. He also made a revealing comment about the level of the Pope's own prior knowledge of the Irish scandals.

He said the Pope was "very well clued in on this issue. Even before he became pope, he had access to the documentation and he knew exactly what was in the documentation.

"He wasn't living in a fool's paradise."

As Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reviews abuse claims against clergy. For months, there have been calls for the Vatican to open its archives to show its own role in responding to sex abuse cases in Ireland.

When the Murphy report into the Dublin diocese was published last year, it emerged that the Papal Nuncio in Ireland, Giuseppe Leanza, had refused to co-operate with the tribunal, hiding behind a cloak of diplomatic protocol and "sovereign immunity".

The Vatican's failure to set out a global code of conduct on child protection may have much to do with its reluctance to acknowledge its authority over national churches. This could lead to ruinously expensive claims for damages against the Pope.

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BBC News - February 16, 2010

Pope condemns Irish bishops over child sex abuse

The Pope summoned the bishops for two days of meetings

Pope Benedict XVI has upbraided Irish Roman Catholic bishops over their handling of child sex abuse scandals.

He condemned abuse of children by priests as a "heinous crime", and said Irish bishops must act to restore the Church's "moral credibility".

During two days of meetings at the Vatican, the Pope reprimanded the bishops for a "failure... for years to act effectively", a statement said.

Last year the Irish Church admitted covering up abuse for decades.

Two state-ordered reports revealed how abuse was rife in many Irish Catholic-run children's institutions, and how priests who were accused of abuse were just moved by bishops to new parishes.

Investigators found that Church officials compiled confidential files on more than 100 parish priests accused of sexual abuse, but that the files were kept secret.

Victims of abuse have accused the Church of putting its own reputation ahead of concern for abused children.

'Honesty and courage'

Following three meetings with the bishops over two days, the Vatican released a statement saying: "All those present recognised that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the Church's leadership."

The Pope had faulted "the failure of the Irish Church authorities for years to act effectively over cases of sexual abuse against young people", the statement said.

"For his part, the Holy Father observed that the 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.

"While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage."

The Vatican also said that the Irish bishops promised to co-operate with civil authorities, "to guarantee that the Church's standards, policies and procedures represent best practice in this area".

'Need action'

Victims of abuse by Irish priests have written a letter to the Pope calling for the resignation of bishops "who engaged in this culture of cover-up".

"The lives of thousands of Irish people have been devastated by sexual abuse by priests," the letter said.

Four bishops have already offered their resignations - though only one has been formally accepted.

A spokesman said the issue of resignation was not discussed at the Pope's meetings with the bishops.

Victims of paedophile priests said the Pope's words must be followed by action.

"We are entitled to expect that the Pope makes those who committed crimes or covered up crimes, including bishops, be made accountable," said Irish Survivors of Child Abuse founder John Kelly.

"The words coming out at the moment seem to be positive. Whether they will act upon them and whether they will go far enough is another matter. We need to see the words turned into action," he told the AFP news agency.

This article was found at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8517744.stm

Catholic News Service - February 19, 2010

Crisis management: For Vatican, it's up to the Irish to heal scandal

By John Thavis | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For Vatican and Irish participants, the two-day meeting on the handling of priestly sex abuse cases was a major accomplishment, combining a frank admission of mismanagement with truly collaborative discussions on how to avoid such mistakes in the future.

But for much of the wider public, especially in Ireland, the meeting Feb. 15-16 fell short of expectations and was remarkable for what it didn't do: no bishops were fired, no abuse victims were heard and Pope Benedict XVI made no plans to visit Ireland and build bridges to alienated Catholics.

"Papal whitewash" and "The pope has 'washed hands' of our abuse" were two not untypical headlines in Irish newspapers the next day.

The encounter highlighted the dilemma facing the pope and other Vatican officials as they try to defuse the pastoral crisis in Ireland. By convening the bishops, the pope clearly signaled his deep interest and concern over the scandal. But because the meeting was not designed to produce "marching orders" or even policy decisions, it was bound to leave some disappointed.

Managing expectations on a topic this explosive is never easy. In this case, the anticipated agenda of the meeting was inflated by media reports that spoke of a shake-up of the church hierarchy in Ireland or a grand papal gesture. Even the word "summit," used by the press but not by the Vatican, suggested there would be high-level conclusions.

Instead, the results were much more about information-sharing than decision-making. There were several reasons for that:

-- Irish bishops have already implemented much-lauded guidelines and policies to protect children from abuse, including full cooperation with civil authorities. As one Vatican official put it: "They already have a very good system in place. Now they have to follow it."

In that sense, the issues on the table were different from those discussed in the 2002 meeting between U.S. bishops and Vatican officials, when the debate was over specific points of proposed sex abuse norms.

-- Some of the big questions hovering over the Irish-Vatican meeting dealt with personnel. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who has pushed for more transparency and accountability among the Irish bishops, has predicted "a very significant reorganization of the church in Ireland." But the resignation of bishops has always been considered a personal decision involving the individual bishop and the pope, and would never be done by committee -- or even by "summit."

-- Likewise, the suggestion by some Irish media that abuse victims should have been brought down to Rome for the encounter was never seriously considered at the Vatican. Church leaders said it would have seemed like a publicity stunt. They pointed out that when Pope Benedict met with abuse victims in the United States and Australia, it was arranged quietly and without fanfare. If something similar happens in Ireland some day, they said, it will also happen away from the media glare.

One outcome of the Vatican-Irish meeting was perhaps too subtle to measure on the media applause meter, but significant nonetheless. By all accounts, there's been a shift in attitude inside the Roman Curia since 2002. At that time, the sex abuse crisis in the United States still found many Vatican officials in denial or very defensive; today, according to the Irish bishops, virtually all of the 10 Vatican department heads in attendance offered genuine support and help.

The Vatican now knows that priestly sex abuse is not a passing episode limited to one or two countries. As if that needed demonstrating, a new clerical sex abuse scandal was emerging in Germany even as the Vatican meeting took place -- and the Vatican newspaper wrote about it. Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said the Vatican seemed to understand that this is "not an Anglophone problem."

Compare that to the famous remark made by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos at a Vatican press conference in 2002. After noting that many of the journalists' questions were posed in English, he said that fact alone "already says something about the problem and gives it an outline."

Cardinal Castrillon, a Colombian who was head of the Congregation for Clergy at the time, worried that accused priests weren't getting a fair hearing, suggested that priests were being unfairly singled out as a category of professionals when it comes to sex abuse and implied that money was a factor in the cases coming to light.

His replacement at the clergy congregation, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, has taken a much different approach. While defending the majority of priests as honest and admirable pastors, Cardinal Hummes recently said instances of priestly sexual abuse were "extremely serious and ... criminal facts" that need to be brought to the attention of the civil justice system and not just to church authorities.

Echoing that, the Vatican communique at the end of the February meeting underlined the Irish bishops' "commitment to cooperation with the statutory authorities" when they deal with abusive priests.

One line in the communique provoked some questioning, even inside the Vatican: the statement, attributed to the pope, that a "more general crisis of faith" affecting the church was a "contributing factor" in the sexual abuse of minors. To some, it sounded like an excuse. The pope's intent, however, is not to relieve priests of their personal responsibility for what he called a "heinous crime" and a grave sin, but to dig for some deeper reasons behind what happened.

"I think that needs to be better explained, and I'm sure he will in his letter," said one Vatican official, speaking of the pope's pastoral letter to the church in Ireland, which was expected before Easter.

The papal letter will not be the final word, though. One lesson of the Vatican-Irish meeting was that the pope and his aides do not intend to micromanage this crisis for the Irish bishops.

As Archbishop Martin of Dublin said after his return to Ireland, "I believe the future of dealing with this question is in the hands of the Irish church."

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