UK bishops express deep sorrow for decades of child abuse
THE leaders of the five million Roman Catholics in England and Wales will publish an unprecedented mea culpa today for child sex abuse.
The "expression of deep sorrow"acknowledges the harm done to hundreds of children over decades by Catholic priests and lay officials.
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, will lead diocesan bishops and archbishops in offering repentance to all Catholics for how the children were treated.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales has been regarded worldwide as a model of how to respond to the crisis.
It addressed child abuse in two reports a decade ago and has strict guidelines on safeguarding children.
But although individual bishops have spoken of their sorrow through a series of reports, commissions and sets of guidelines, as well as in sermons, the church's leaders have never offered a statement comparable to today's.
A church insider said the failure to do so had been an oversight and that the statement did not represent a sudden change of heart.
The bishops understood the importance of making clear the extent of their sorrow.
Their statement is expected to reiterate what Archbishop Nichols wrote in a recent article in 'The Times': "The child abuse committed within the Roman Catholic Church and its concealment is deeply shocking and totally unacceptable. I am ashamed of what happened and understand the outrage and anger it has provoked."
Most cases in England and Wales are historic but a few clerical abusers have continued exploiting their access to children.
Father David Pearce, a Benedictine monk at Ealing Abbey, West London, was jailed for eight years in October after admitting offences against pupils during 35 years at the abbey.
Archbishop Nichols chaired the Church's child safety body but was not told all the details of Pearce's offences until last year, when he replaced Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor at Westminster.
Last week, the Holy See issued instructions to bishops worldwide to report cases of abusive priests to police where civil laws require it.
The scandal also continues to reverberate in Pope Benedict's German homeland, where the head of the Catholic Church has asked Walter Mixa, Bishop of Augsberg and a papal ally, to step down until investigations into claims that he beat orphaned children and misused church funds are complete.
Alleged victims have claimed that he also used a stick, a wooden spoon and, when that broke, his fists. After weeks of denials, Bishop Mixa said that he could "not rule out a cuff or two around the ear 20 years ago" but added: "I very much regret that today." (© The Times, London)