Pope: Abuse was sinful and criminal

Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of all Ireland, gives out the pastoral letter to parishioners at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh today.

The Pope has apologised to the victims of clerical sex abuse in Ireland, saying he is "truly sorry".

In a pastoral letter which is being read out at Masses across the country this weekend, the Pontiff has called on Bishops to admit that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occured.

He asked abusers to openly acknowledge their guilt, to submit themselves to the demands of justice and said the abuse was "sinful and criminal".

The long-awaited letter is the first public statement by the Vatican on the sexual abuse of children dating back decades.

“I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them,” the Pope told abuse survivors.

“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry.”

n the much-anticipated letter, Pope Benedict acknowledged that many victims who were brave enough to speak out found no one would listen.

The pontiff admitted there had been “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person”.

He said decisive action was needed to restore Irish people’s respect and goodwill towards the Church and called for the clergy’s continued co-operation with civil authorities in addressing child abuse.

“In order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children,” he added.

“Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.”

The pontiff also expressed willingness in his letter to meet with victims.

Revelations of decades of sickening abuse and subsequent cover-ups have rocked the Irish Catholic Church to its foundations.

While directed to Irish Catholics, the letter will also have wider relevance for other countries hit by abuse scandals in recent times – including the pontiff’s native Germany.

The unprecedented note comes as head of the Catholic Church in Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady continues to resist calls to resign over his handling of historic abuse allegations that saw victims sign confidentiality deals.

The under-pressure primate, who has previously said he would take a period of time to reflect on his future, issued the letter to morning Mass-goers at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh.

“In the name of the Church, Pope Benedict openly expresses the shame and remorse that we all feel about the abuse that has occurred,” the cardinal told the congregation.

“Throughout the letter Pope Benedict talks about the need for healing, repentance and renewal.

“He expresses the depth of the pain that has been caused and acknowledges that some people find it difficult even to go inside the doors of a church after all that has occurred.”

Cardinal Brady urged people to read the letter with an open heart and in a spirit of faith.

“No one imagines that the present painful situation will be resolved quickly,” he added. “Yet with perseverance, prayer and working together in unity, the Holy Father says we can be confident that the Church in Ireland will experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the letter was not a final word but a further step in the process of renewal and healing in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

In a statement, Archbishop Martin welcomed the Pope's expression of apology and his recognition of the suffering and betrayal experienced by survivors.

While Cardinal Seán Brady has been under fire, for his role in secrecy oaths taken by two victims of notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth almost 35 years ago, the Church has also been stunned with disclosures that two other accused priests agreed to pay £45,000 and £12,000 respectively to their alleged victims in out-of-court settlements.

These claims were all the more damaging as the legal deals included confidentiality clauses that the Church of late has so publicly stated its opposition to.

This week’s fresh scandals follow only months after state investigations unearthed a shocking litany of past clerical and institutional abuse against children.

Yesterday the North’s Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said the British government should consider holding a similar probe north of the border.

On Wednesday Cardinal Brady told a congregation at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh – where he said Mass to St Patrick’s Day - that he would take a period of time to reflect on his future.

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