The Pope's words
The following are edited extracts from the Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland:
DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE CHURCH IN IRELAND, it is with great concern that I write to you as pastor of the universal church. Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious.
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.
To the victims of abuse and their families
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. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen.
Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope.
To priests and religious who have abused children
You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.
You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow . . . Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy.
In today's world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth . . . As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my prayers.
To my brother bishops
It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations . . . it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.