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Thursday 22 February 2018

Letter falls short of victims' expectations

Pope 'missed opportunity to address core issue in scandal'

Don Lavery

The failure of Pope Benedict in his long-awaited pastoral letter to Irish Catholics to deal with any Vatican responsibility for the clerical child sex abuse scandal or the "deliberate" policy of the church in Ireland to protect paedophile priests was criticised by victims' groups yesterday.

However, some welcomed his direction that church leaders co-operate with the civil authorities on abuse, but his failure to deal with bishops' resignations was also criticised.

The Pope also ordered a Vatican investigation into certain dioceses in Ireland as well as seminaries and religious congregations; the Vatican directed that a similar "apostolic visitation" into US seminaries be carried out after the clerical sex abuse scandal exploded in the States in 2002.

Such a move is undertaken only when Rome considers a local church unable to deal with a problem on its own.

However, yesterday a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office said there was no information on what dioceses or institutions would be involved.

The Pope's letter was, however, described as having "passed up a glorious opportunity to address the core issue in the scandal, the deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children", One in Four said.

Executive director Maeve Lewis said: "The Pope speaks only of failures in the Irish church and neglects the role of the Vatican. If the church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial."

She said they were also astounded at the Pope's previous assertion that the roots of clerical sexual abuse lie in the secularisation of Irish society, the falling off of religious devotion, and failures to adhere to canon law.

"This shows a complete misunderstanding of the dynamics of sexual violence and creates little hope that the church will ever respond effectively to the problem."

Author and survivor Andrew Madden said issues raised by him and others in a letter to the Pope, such as fully accepting the findings of the Murphy report and accepting bishops resignations, had been ignored.

"There has been no owning of the Catholic Church's part in causing the sexual abuse of so many children by protecting paedophile priests.

"Instead Pope Benedict has repeated his apology for the hurt caused to those abused but the church's role is referred to only as failing to deal with criminal and sinful acts.

"The Catholic Church did not fail to act -- it acted very clearly to protect itself and leave other children to pay the price," he said.

Another survivor, Marie Collins, also said she welcomed the direction that church authorities should co-operate with the civil authorities, but the main thrust of the remarks appeared to be around canon law, which was the problem in the first place.

As a Catholic she appreciated his apology to victims, but she said there had been no mention of Vatican directives that may have led to the problem.

In his lengthy letter, the Pope did not specifically rebuke bishops for failure to report sex abuse cases to the gardai, saying only that serious mistakes were made.

Pope Benedict told victims: "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured.

"Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated."

He told bishops that some of them and their predecessors failed, at times grieviously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse.

Telling them to fully implement canon law on child abuse, he said they should continue to co-operate with the civil authorities.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin welcomed the Pope's expression of apology and his recognition of the suffering and betrayal experienced by survivors.

Cardinal Sean Brady also welcomed the letter and thanked the Pope for his "profound kindness and concern".

Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter said: "We should never again tolerate a foreign state issuing directives to members of the hierarchy and other clerics in this state to violate Irish law by concealing reports of child sexual abuse and not reporting such allegations.

"Nor should we ever again tolerate a foreign state requiring that an oath of any nature be taken by an adult or child to maintain a veil of secrecy over incidents of sexual abuse."

Cori, the Conference of Religious of Ireland, welcomed the letter and the Pope's statement.

Sister Marianne O'Connor, director general of Cori, said yesterday: "This pastoral letter is an important part of the ongoing process of confronting the mistakes of the past, encouraging healing and reconciliation and ensuring the safeguarding of children."

The group said it was unclear as to how many religious congregations would be part of the apostolic visitation process "and we await the detail on this".

Sunday Independent

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