Pope meets Irish bishops over abuse
Benedict XVI meets clergy at the Vatican to discuss judicial reports exposing abuse.
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2010 15:57 GMT
Before becoming pope, Benedict had decried 'filth' among some ranks of clerics in the church [AFP]

Pope Benedict XVI has met Ireland's 24 Roman Catholic bishops to discuss a scandal over the sexual abuse of children by members of the country's clergy.

Monday's meeting between the pope and the bishops opened with a prayer and fraternal kisses in what Ireland's senior bishop called a first step toward repentance.

Cardinal Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, told Vatican Radio that the two-day meeting was part of a "journey of repentance, reconciliation and renewal" for the Irish Church.

Two judicial reports published in Ireland last year revealed that church leaders had protected child-abusing priests from the law, while many fellow clerics turned a blind eye.

The reports, which shocked the nation, documented decades of sexual, physical and psychological abuse in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanages.

Resignations demanded

Joseph Duffy, the bishop of Clogher, said resignations were not on the agenda in Rome, despite victims' demands that clerics who played a role in concealing the paedophile priests step down.

Benedict asked each bishop where they were from before prayers began the summit and cameras were ushered out of the salon in the Apostolic Palace.

In depth

Ireland's legacy of abuse

On Tuesday, before heading back to Ireland for Ash Wednesday penance services, the bishops will have one more session with Benedict, who before becoming pope had decried "filth" among some ranks of clerics in the worldwide church.

The bishops will each speak with the pontiff about their views and knowledge of the abuse.

Reverend Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said one point of discussion will be the special pastoral letter Benedict has promised to send on the abuse scandal.

Duffy indicated on Sunday that the letter's issuance is not imminent because of the complexity of the scandal.

Victims have also called on the Vatican to take clear responsibility for what they call a culture of concealment of abuse.

Frank discussions

If the pontiff's letter "limits itself to ... expressions of regret, there will be considerable disappointment among the faithful," read an editorial on Monday in the Irish Times.

"The lives of thousands of Irish people have been devastated by sexual abuse by priests"

Open letter to the Pope from victims of abuse

Among the Holy See officials joining the summit is William Levada, a US cardinal who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key Vatican office that reviews abuse claims against clergy worldwide.

The pope himself once held the office, when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and led it during the years of John Paul II's papacy, which was stained by sex abuse and cover-up scandals in the United States, Australia and other countries.

Duffy said the bishops' discussions with Benedict would be frank.

"It is my information that the pope is very well clued in on this issue, that even before he became pope he had access to the documentation, and that he know exactly what was in the documentation, and that he wasn't living in a fool's paradise," Duffy said.

In recent weeks, a new sexual abuse scandal involving clergy has erupted in the Catholic church in Benedict's homeland of Germany.    

Ireland visit

In Ireland, an anti-abuse campaigner called on Monday for the pope to visit the country to meet victims of the paedophile priests scandal.

Christine Buckley, who suffered abuse herself, told RTE state radio that the pope had visited the United States and Australia and apologised to victims of clerical sex abuse, so should do the same in Ireland's case.

"It should start ... in Ireland for victims of institutional and clerical abuse, given that many of the [Irish] abusers went to countries such as Australia, such as America, where they continued their abuse," she said.

Meanwhile a number of Irish abuse victim support groups wrote an open 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," said the letter, also signed by former altar boy Andrew Madden, who in 1995 was the first Irish person to take legal action against the church.

"We ask you to write, not only to Irish Catholics, but to all people of Ireland, accepting fully the harm that has been caused by the acts of omission and commission of the Catholic Church and its priests and bishops in Ireland."

Several Irish bishops have already agreed to resign over the reports' findings, including two who stepped down on Christmas Day, but others have flatly refused.

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