Page last updated at 18:19 GMT, Sunday, 21 March 2010

Bishop urges discussion of Pope's letter

Pope Benedict XVI - 17 March 2010
Pope Benedict has described the abuse as shameful and hateful

Pope Benedict XVI has apologised to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland.

In a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, he acknowledged the sense of betrayal in the Church felt by victims and their families.

The Bishop of Down and Connor urged Catholics to discuss the Pope's letter.

Bishop Noel Treanor made the call as he delivered extracts from the letter to parishioners in St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast on Saturday evening.

Bishop Treanor said he thought the Church was moving forward in a spirit of openness and transparency.

"The standards and policies in respect of child sex abuse and the abuse of vulnerable minors and adults have evolved a lot in the last 20, 30 years," he said.

"They are still evolving and they will continue to do so, no doubt."

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Joseph Duffy, has been quoted by a newspaper in Northern Ireland admitting that he failed to go to the police in the case of an alleged abuser.

The Sunday Life reported that Bishop Duffy said he should have notified the authorities when he became aware of the allegations in 1989.

The priest in question was later convicted of child abuse.

A spokesman for the bishop said he was "bound to secrecy by the victim's parents at the time".

'Truly sorry'

The Pope said there had been "serious mistakes" among bishops in responding to allegations of paedophilia.

I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel
Pope Benedict

The pastoral letter is the first statement of its kind by the Vatican on the sexual abuse of children.

It follows revelations of paedophilia within the Irish Catholic Church, which have rocked the institution.

Scandals involving Catholic priests have been reported in other countries, including the Pope's native Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and the US.

Addressing the victims of abuse, the Pope wrote: "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry."

He continued: "Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated... I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."

He said those guilty of abuse must "answer before God and properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed".

BBC correspondent David Willey in Rome
David Willey, BBC News, Rome

The pope calls for healing, reparation and renewal in the Irish Church but essentially his remedy is more prayer.

He does however criticise inadequate procedures in selecting candidates for the priesthood, and the misplaced concern of some bishops to avoid scandal at all costs, even failing to report cases of paedophile priests to the police.

Victims of sexual abuse by priests in the Pope's own country, Germany, and other parts of the world are likely to be disappointed that he concentrates entirely upon the sexual scandals which occurred in Ireland without referring to the fact that this is openly acknowledged by church officials to be a worldwide problem.

However, the Pope's statement may fall short of demands by victims' groups for an admission that abuse was systematically covered up, says BBC Religious Affairs correspondent Robert Pigott.

The only direct reference to cover-ups is a reference to "a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal".

The leader of one Irish victims' group said she was disappointed the Pope's letter did not recognise any responsibility of the Vatican in the crisis.

"We are really disappointed that there is no acknowledgement that the cover-up and the policy of cover-up in the church went right to the the Vatican," said Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four.

She said victims had also hoped for acknowledgement of the "scurrilous ways" in which they were treated as they tried to alert Church authorities to their abuse.

However, Patrick Walsh of Irish Survivors of Abuse said the letter was "unprecedented" and "encouraging".

'Tragic consequences'

The Pope also criticised inadequate procedures in selecting candidates for the priesthood and "insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates" as factors contributing to the crisis.

He said: "Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

Although the Pope said Vatican officials would visit Ireland to inspect some dioceses, he did not call for any restructuring of the Church in Ireland.

He also did not call for the resignation of any bishops, although a few have already volunteered to leave their posts.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, has resisted calls to resign over his handling of abuse allegations in the 1970s that saw victims sign confidentiality agreements.

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