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Pope's letter was a blatant and disgraceful deceit

Pope Benedict XVI published his letter to the Irish Church on the issue of child abuse on Saturday. What was necessary seemed clear. He had to acknowledge the cover-up of the rape and abuse of children by priests, to take responsibility for it, and to show how he'd ensure it never happened again.

But the letter failed to do any of that. There was no acceptance of responsibility for the now-established cover-up, no plan to ensure that children will be properly protected around the global Church, and no assurance that those who rape and abuse will be reported to the civil authorities.

The letter is clearly an effort to restore the credibility of a Church rocked by the publication of three State investigations into clerical crimes and church over ups in Ireland. The Pope has seen all three reports.

And yet, disgracefully, he used his letter and this issue to attack one of his favourite targets, secularisation. We are asked to believe that the secularisation of Irish society led to abuse and cover-up. In fact, it is secularisation that finally led to the exposure of the crimes of the church.

The most horrific abuse was perpetrated, not in a secularised Ireland, but at a time when Irish society was dominated, socially and politically, by the Catholic Church. That the Pope appears to have wilfully ignored this established fact is a blatant deceit.

Some have reported that the Pope issued a heartfelt apology to victims of abuse. In fact, the word 'sorry' appeared just once in a letter of almost 4,700 words.

The Pope said he was "truly sorry" that victims had suffered. But an expression of sorrow is not the same as an acceptance of responsibility. The letter does go some way to express remorse. But why is it impossible for this Vicar of Christ on Earth to name truth in simple, unambiguous terms? Is that really too much to ask?

The Pope's letter has been described as "unprecedented" and an important step forward by the Vatican in dealing with clerical child sexual abuse. It is neither. Just consider an earlier papal decree addressing the issue of Catholic clergy abusing children.

In his papal order Horrendum, Pope Pius V said that priests who abused children were to be stripped of the priesthood, deprived of all income and privileges and handed over to the civil authorities.

Pretty strong stuff, especially when one considers that it was issued in 1568. And far stronger than anything the current Pope was able to muster in his letter. Strip away some worthy and welcome sentiments, consider the issues ignored and all that remains is a constant concern for the preservation of the institutional Church -- and little real concern for the safety of children.

Colm O'Gorman is the author of the memoir Beyond Belief. www.colmogorman.com