21 Mar 2010

Pope apologises to child sex abuse victims in Ireland

10:06 am on 21 March 2010

Pope Benedict XVI has apologised to victims of child sex abuse by clergy in Ireland and ordered an official inquiry to try to stem a scandal that has swept throughout Europe.

The 13-page pastoral letter is the first document of its kind by the Vatican on the sexual abuse of children by priests.

The Pope's action over abuse at Irish dioceses and seminaries is the most concrete step taken since a wave of cases were reported in Ireland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States.

The letter contains the apology expected from the Pope and also refers to the often inadequate response to abuse on the part of the Church's leadership, the BBC reports.

The pontiff acknowledged the sense of betrayal in the Church felt by victims and their families, saying there had been "serious mistakes" among bishops in responding to allegations of paedophilia.

Pope Benedict called for healing, reparation and renewal in the Irish Church, but the BBC reports that his remedy is, essentially, more prayer.

The Pope calls for no resignations of bishops, although a few have already volunteered to leave their posts. 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.

But the BBC reports the statement falls somewhat short of the frank admission that abuse was systematically covered up over a matter of decades, which has been demanded by groups representing victims.

Addressing the victims of abuse, the Pope wrote: "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated ... I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."

One Irish victims' group said it was disappointed that the Pope's letter did not recognise any responsibility of the Vatican.

The Vatican says it will intervene directly in the Church in Ireland in an effort to restore trust and rebuild the Church's damaged moral authority.