Prelates urged to come clean on role in cover-up
BISHOPS have been urged to "come clean" on any role in covering up child sex abuse allegations as two major investigations loom over Irish dioceses.
Pope Benedict said bishops committed "grave errors of judgment" as he called for honesty and transparency in his historic pastoral letter.
Senior clergy and religious will come under renewed scrutiny as the Pope announced an Apostolic Visitation -- an inquisition into what the Vatican considers unorthodox practice or laxity of moral life.
Meanwhile, an all-Ireland, diocese-by-diocese audit of the handling of abuse allegations, to be carried out by the church-funded National Board for Safeguarding Children, will begin after Easter.
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 any disciplinary action.
The Pope's failure to acknowledge or apologise for any role in clerical cover-ups means the spotlight of this inquiry will be firmly on the bishops, clergy and religious orders, while the national seminary at Maynooth University will also be probed for unorthodox teaching of candidates for the priesthood.
Several dioceses, including Dublin, Cloyne and Ferns, are likely to be scrutinised closely in the powerful Vatican intervention -- although whether there will be significant sackings or resignations remains to be seen.
Victims' groups have accused the Pope of deflecting blame on to Irish society and bishops, and away from the Vatican.
Fr Kevin Hegarty, who was removed to a remote parish in Mayo after publishing an article on the clerical abuse problem, said he was disappointed Pope Benedict did not extend his criticism to the Vatican's role.
The Pope said he was "truly sorry" in the seven-page letter to Irish victims of clerical child abuse, but failed to apologise or acknowledge church cover-ups.
"I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way church authorities in Ireland dealt with them," he told followers.
But only hours after the letter was released, another leading Irish bishop admitted being involved in an investigation into clerical abuse claims, during which victims were made to sign oaths of secrecy.
The Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy, said he had been been party to at least one civil settlement in which a non-disclosure agreement was signed between the diocese and the claimant.
Head of the Catholic Church in Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady faces ongoing calls to step down over his handling of abuse claims which saw victims of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth sign confidentiality deals.
The church was also stunned this week by disclosures that two other accused Irish priests agreed to pay thousands of pounds in out-of-court settlements to their alleged victims.
There could soon be three probes into the failures of the Catholic Church in Ireland running at once.
The diocesan audit funded by the bishops, and the Apostolic Visitation, are now certain to take place.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen is also under pressure to extend the Murphy Commission to other dioceses in the Republic. The commission is investigating the diocese of Cloyne, but Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has made calls for full revelations and accountability.
Dr Martin described Saturday's papal letter as part of a process to bring healing to victims. "The Pope, rightly I think, identified internal problems in the church which created this culture which favoured clergy and covered up in the name of scandal," he said.