The Pope's personal representative spoke yesterday of the Catholic Church's "shame and remorse" over the "enormous scandal" of clerical sexual abuse of children.
After meeting abuse survivors during a pilgrimage to Lough Derg, Cardinal Marc Ouellet said he had gone there with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness from God and the victims for the "grave sin" of sexual abuse of children by clerics.
He also spoke of the "inadequate" response of some church authorities to such crimes and that this was in spite of clear indications in canon law.
The papal legate said Pope Benedict had asked him to go to Lough Derg and to request God's forgiveness for the times clerics had sexually abused children -- not only in Ireland but anywhere in the church.
He had been "deeply moved" by his meeting with the survivors and he said he would be reporting on the meeting to Pope Benedict on his return to Rome. His statement of apology was read yesterday during a media briefing at the Eucharistic Congress by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.
However, journalists were unable to ask Dr Martin whether he felt Cardinal Ouellet's comments had drawn a line under Rome's overall response to the child abuse controversy.
He declined to take questions at the press briefing and left immediately after he finished reading the cardinal's statement.
But last night one survivors' group described the cardinal's comments as "full of rhetoric and empty promises".
John Kelly of survivors of child abuse group SOCA said Cardinal Ouellet's statement would do nothing for the many abuse victims who needed emotional, physical and psychological help rather than comments that held no substance.
"It's too late for justice but the church could give us accountability and could address the needs of the victims," he told the Irish Independent.
In his statement, Cardinal Ouellet said he had met a representative group of survivors in Lough Derg at a meeting that lasted two hours.
The group of men and women included representatives of institutional and clerical abuse from different parts of the island of Ireland and each survivor spoke of their own personal experience of abuse and its impact on their lives.
"Pope Benedict XVI asked me as his legate to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin that I would come to Lough Derg and ask God's forgiveness for the times clerics have sexually abused children -- not only in Ireland but anywhere in the church."
The cardinal said they had learned over the past decades how much harm and despair such abuse caused to thousands of victims.
"The tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by Christians, especially when done by members of the clergy, is a source of great shame and enormous scandal," he said.
From the context of the Eucharistic Congress, he said he reaffirmed the church's commitment to create a safe environment for children and they prayed that a new culture of respect, integrity and Christ- like love would permeate the whole of society.