Ratzinger releases pastoral letter on Irish abuse

Via the Washington Post:

Pope Benedict XVI rebuked Irish bishops Saturday for “grave errors of judgment” in handling clerical sex abuse cases and ordered an investigation into the Irish church. But he laid no blame for the problem on the Vatican’s policies of keeping such cases secret.

In a letter to the Irish faithful read across Europe amid a growing, multination abuse scandal, the pope apologized to victims but doled out no specific punishments to bishops blamed by Irish government-ordered investigations for having covered up abuse of thousands of Irish children from the 1930s to the 1990s.

Ireland’s main group of clerical-abuse victims, One in Four, said it was deeply disappointed by the letter because it failed to place responsibility with the Vatican for what it called a “deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children.”

“If the church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial,” the group said.

The letter directly addressed only Ireland, but the Vatican said it could be read as applying to other countries. Hundreds of new allegations of abuse have recently come to light across Europe, including in the pope’s native Germany, where he served as archbishop in a diocese where several victims have recently come forward. One priest suspected of molesting boys while the future pope was in charge was transferred to a job where he abused more children.

While a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger penned a 2001 letter instructing bishops around the world to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep the church investigations secret under threat of excommunication. While the Vatican insists that secrecy rule only applied to the church’s investigation and didn’t preclude reporting abuse to police, Irish bishops have said the letter was widely understood to mean they shouldn’t report the cases to civil authorities.

“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry,” Benedict said, addressing himself to Irish Catholics who suffered “sinful and criminal” abuse at the hands of priests, brothers and nuns and a botched response by their superiors.

“It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church,” he said. “In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”

Benedict used his harshest words for the abusers themselves, saying they had betrayed the trust of the faithful, brought shame on the church and now must answer before God and civil authorities.

“Conceal nothing,” he exhorted them. “Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.”

Benedict faulted their superiors, the Irish bishops, for having failed “sometimes grievously” to apply the church’s own law which calls for harsh punishments for child abusers, including defrocking priests. But he didn’t rebuke them for having failed to report cases of abuse to police, saying only that serious mistakes were made and that now they must prevent future abuse and “continue to cooperate with civil authorities.”

“I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice,” Benedict wrote.

“Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. And this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.”

While the letter doled out no punishment for the bishops, the pope did order a Vatican investigation into some dioceses, seminaries and religious orders. Such a move is undertaken only when Rome considers a local church unable to deal with a problem on its own.

Update: The full text is available here.  The  letter has already drawn criticism for failing to address the covering up of abuse:

Campaigners for the victims of sexual abuse in Ireland claimed the Pope’s letter failed to address the “core issue” of why the perpetrators were protected. Sexual abuse charity One in Four said the Catholic Church was “still in denial”, while a survivor of abuse said the apology did not address the cover-up. One in Four director Maeve Lewis said: “Victims were hoping for an acknowledgement of the scurrilous ways in which they have been treated as they attempted to bring their experiences of abuse to the attention of the church authorities.

“Pope Benedict has passed up a glorious opportunity to address the core issue in the clerical sexual abuse scandal: the deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children.

“If the Church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial.”

Andrew Madden, who in 1995 was the first person to go public win an abuse lawsuit against the church, said: “The apology today is not for the cover-up, it’s for the abuse and for the most part they didn’t commit the abuse but they caused some because of the cover-up.

“That’s the bit they should say sorry for.”

However Irish Survivors of Child Abuse said positives could be taken from the letter, not least that an apology had been offered for the first time. Spokesman John Kelly said: “It would appear that the message overall is one of sincerity to bring about change in the Church. We have an apology for the first time, and that’s important.”

“Will anybody be made accountable? It would appear so from my reading of what the Pope is saying, so that’s positive but we need clarification,” he added.

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