Pope takes steps to real contrition
Pope Benedict has taken an important first step in what will be a long road of reconciliation between his church and the Irish people. His pastoral letter, which will be read in Roman Catholic churches across Ireland today, is far from being an adequate response to the suffering caused by his church in recent decades, but it is a start. He recognises the grave errors of his bishops and tells the victims of abuse that their "trust has been betrayed and [their] dignity has been violated".
The Pope does not, however, suggest that his bishops should resign, nor does he deal with the culture of cover-up that protected so many abusers from prosecution and exposed so many children to abuse. Bizarrely, he blames the secularisation of Irish society for some of his church's problems and dwells too often on the importance of canon law, as if it were an adequate substitute for the law of the land. The Pope and his bishops need to understand that canon law is a meaningless concept to anyone who does not exist within the narrow world of the church. The only law that matters is the law that can put abusers and their protectors behind bars, where they can no longer pose a threat to the children they preyed upon under the cover of doing God's work.
The Pope, too, strays dangerously close to equivocation when he talks of the abuse of children "particularly by priests and religious". It is precisely the abuse by priests and religious that is at issue, and it is the betrayal of trust and of Christ that has made that abuse so exceptionally vile.