Pope Expresses 'Shame and Remorse' to Irish Catholics
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(March 20) – Pope Benedict XVI sent an impassioned and unprecedented pastoral letter to the people of Ireland Saturday, apologizing for decades of clerical sexual abuse but placing the blame squarely on Irish bishops.
The Pope said Irish bishops "failed, at times, grievously," and "serious mistakes were made" when confronted with clerical sexual abuse. He called the abuse, which was outlined in devastating detail in two investigations released last year in Ireland, "sinful and criminal."
Surprisingly, the Pope also put some of the blame on Ireland itself, for becoming more secular and abandoning old-school Catholicism.
"The church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society," he wrote.
"Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people's traditional adherence to Catholic teachings and values."
But Benedict made it clear that he understood the misery endured by victims of abuse and asked them to forgive the church.
"You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry," the Pope wrote. "I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated."
Thousands of Irish children were raped, molested, beated and otherwise abused by parish priests and by nuns and brothers in Catholic-run schools and orphanages, according to investigations between 2005 and 2009 by the Irish government.
No bishops ever reported the abuse to police until the first victims sued the church in 1996.
Benedict acknowledged the horrors faced by the victims and said he understood their anger.
""Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen," he wrote. "Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape for your sufferings."
"It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church," he continued. "In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."
The highly-anticipated, 4600-word letter, which will be read at evening masses Saturday and Sunday all over Ireland, promised a Vatican probe, called an "apostolic visitation," into certain dioceses in Ireland. The Vatican ordered a similar probe in the U.S. after 2002.
There was no mention of the Vatican bearing any responsibility for the abuse in Ireland and no indication that any immediate disciplinary measures were planned for Irish church officials involved in covering up child sexual abuse.
The Pope's harshest words were aimed at the clergy who abused children.
"You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents," he wrote. "You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonor among your confreres."
Though the Pope wrote that " the problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland or the Church," his tone in the letter sounded oddly at times as if Ireland were the only country to be facing the results of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
The U.S. faced a massive Catholic sexual abuse scandal in 2002 and similar scandals are now erupting in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Brazil.
The Pope cited the country's long history of "persecution" and "recent decades of secularization" as some of the many cultural and societal factors that left Irish Catholics more vulnerable to "the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse."
Maeve Lewis, director of the Irish abuse survivors' group, One in Four, said she was "astounded at the Pope's assertion that that the roots of clerical sexual abuse lie in the secularization 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," Lewis said.
Lewis added that the Pope blamed the Irish church without mentioning the Vatican's role.
"If the Church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial," she said.
In contrast, Irish Cardinal Sean Brady, under fire himself for his role in indirectly helping cover up the sexual abuse of Ireland's worst pedophile priest, Brendan Smyth, said he "welcomed" the letter during a Saturday address in Armagh.
"It is evident from the Pastoral Letter that Pope Benedict is deeply dismayed by what he refers to as 'sinful and criminal acts and the way the Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them,'" Brady said.