Benedict XVI: Hollow platitudes at Summit with Irish Bishops fail Church’s victims & the faithful Print E-mail

 

According to Benedict XVI,  "The weakening of faith has been 'a significant contributing factor' in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors". WHAT ABSOLUTE ROT! More to the point, as is obvious to all and sundry outside of the Vatican, the reality is that the sexual abuse of children and young adults by the Catholic Church's "ordained men", and the Vatican's covert complicity, has been and remains 'THE significant contributing factor' in the weakening of faith in the Catholic Church

 Dublin ~ Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vatican statement:

[Scroll down to read hurt and angered responses from survivors of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church's clerics, and editorials and analyses from journalists and advocates expert in religious affairs from the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and the USA]

Weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors

The following is the full text of the press release issued by the Vatican yesterday

On 15 and 16 February, 2010, the Holy Father met the Irish bishops and senior members of the Roman Curia to discuss the serious situation which has emerged in the church in Ireland. Together they examined the failure of Irish church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious. All those present recognised that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the church’s leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching.

The meeting took place in a spirit of prayer and collegial fraternity, and its frank and open atmosphere provided guidance and support to the bishops in their efforts to address the situation in their respective dioceses.

On the morning of 15 February, following a brief introduction by the Holy Father, each of the Irish bishops offered his own observations and suggestions.

The bishops spoke frankly of the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused.

There was a similar sense of outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious in this regard.

The bishops likewise described the support at present being provided by thousands of trained and dedicated lay volunteers at parish level to ensure the safety of children in all church activities and stressed that, while there is no doubt that errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people.

They also emphasised their commitment to co-operation with the statutory authorities in Ireland – North and South – and with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland to guarantee that the church’s standards, policies and procedures represent best practice in this area.

For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image.

While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage. He also expressed the hope that the present meeting would help to unify the bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the church’s spiritual and moral credibility.

The Holy Father also pointed to the more general crisis of faith affecting the church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors. He stressed the need for a deeper theological reflection on the whole issue, and called for an improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained and professed.

The bishops had an opportunity to examine and discuss a draft of the pastoral letter of the Holy Father to the Catholics of Ireland. Taking into account the comments of the Irish bishops, His Holiness will now complete his letter, which will be issued during the coming season of Lent.

The discussions concluded late Tuesday morning, 16 February 2010. As the bishops return to their dioceses, the Holy Father has asked that this Lent be set aside as a time for imploring an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the church in Ireland.

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 USA ~ February 19, 2010

Irish sex abuse victims said to be close to despair

Clergy abuse survivors met with Dublin archbishop Feb. 19

By Cian Molloy Catholic News Service
Pope Benedict XVI meets with Irish bishops at the Vatican Feb. 15. (CNS)

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Victims of clerical child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin said they are close to despair because the church will not take full responsibility for covering up the abuse.

Clergy abuse survivors met with Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Feb. 19 to discuss the outcome of the meeting of Irish bishops with Pope Benedict XVI and senior officials from the Roman Curia. The Feb. 15-16 Vatican meeting reviewed a November report by an independent commission that investigated how the Dublin Archdiocese handled complaints of clerical child sexual abuse between 1975 and 2004.

The commission, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, "found that the church deliberately covered up allegations of child abuse, but the only senior person who seems to accept that is Archbishop Martin," Maeve Lewis, director of the One in Four abuse survivors' group, told Catholic News Service.

She said that in the statement issued by the Vatican Feb. 16, the pope only accepted ''the failure of Irish church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious."

"That is not good enough," she said, adding that the abuse survivors want "complete acceptance by the pope of the findings of the Murphy report."

"Archbishop Martin also told us that there was a chance that the pope wouldn't accept the resignations of the three auxiliary bishops named in the report who have offered him their resignation. If that would happen, the victims would find it unbelievable, they really would despair," she added.

Four bishops criticized in the Murphy report have offered their resignations, but so far the pope has officially accepted only one of them. Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway and Kilmacduagh, also criticized in the report, has rejected demands by Catholic groups for his resignation.

Asked about the idea of the pope meeting survivors, Lewis said: "Without a meaningful dialogue it's hopeless. The pope would have to listen to survivors and accept what they say before there could be some kind of reconciliation, but that seems to be an unlikely proposition given the way meetings between the pope and survivors of clerical abuse were handled in Australia and the U.S."

Another survivor, Marie Collins, told RTE News that she was "totally depressed by what transpired at the meeting" with the Dublin archbishop.

She said Archbishop Martin "seemed like a defeated man. He told us he had passed on our concerns to the pontiff, but that none of them were addressed."

Collins was among the survivors who reacted with a mix of anger and disappointment to the Vatican statement about the papal meeting with Irish bishops. She told CNS she thought the statement was "pathetic" and "so far away from accepting that there was a policy of cover-up."

"I wasn't expecting much from the meeting, but the fact that the resignation of bishops was not even on the agenda had been insulting," she said.

Christine Buckley, who was abused in a home run by the Sisters of Mercy, said in a statement that the meeting was "an absolute and utter charade from beginning to end."

"It was a pretend slap on the hand from Pope Benedict," she said.

Buckley said she had hoped the pope would announce that he was coming to Ireland to meet with victims of institutional and sexual abuse when he visits Britain in September.

Michael O'Brien of Right to Peace, a group for victims of clergy sexual abuse, told CNS that his first reaction to the news from Rome was one of disbelief.

"It's unbelievable what we heard today from the pope," he said after the Vatican statement was issued Feb. 16. "This is the man who is in charge of the Catholic Church worldwide, and he hadn't even the gumption to say he was sorry for what happened to us.

"All he's done now is to add salt to the wounds, and this is very hurtful," he added. "We were expecting something and we got nothing."

The Vatican statement said Pope Benedict called sexual abuse of children and young people "a heinous crime" and "a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image." The statement said the pope "challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage."

Father Patrick McCafferty, who as a boy in Northern Ireland was abused by a priest, said he was trying desperately to take something positive from the meetings.

"There's such raw and deep hurt that it's going to take a long, long time to ever recover what's been lost," he said.

Shortly after the meetings, in response to criticism of the fact that the Vatican statement did not contain an apology, Archbishop Martin said "there comes a time when repeating the word apology may even be empty."

He also said the bishops and Vatican officials agreed beforehand that they would not discuss bishops' resignations.

A spokesman for Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said the government was "considering the (Vatican) statement" and recognized the great progress the church has made in safeguarding children.

Alan Shatter, Irish opposition spokesman, said it was "regrettable that the press release did not refer to the failure of the papal nuncio and the Vatican to cooperate with the Murphy commission's investigation into the manner in which the church has dealt with child sexual abuse."

Shatter also criticized the fact that the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, has refused to appear before a parliamentary committee to discuss the failure of his office to respond to queries from the judicial commission.

"I am repeating my call on the Vatican and the Irish hierarchy to bring about a change of attitude and to engage in constructive, transparent dialogue with regard to the manner in which the church has dealt with the issue of clerical child abuse and the failure of the Vatican to provide assistance to the Murphy commission when it was sought," Shatter said.

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Contributing to this story was Michael Kelly.
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 USA ~ February 19, 2010

Commentary

The pope's empty words to Ireland

By Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish*

Pope Benedict's repetition over and over again that the sexual abuse of a child is "a heinous crime" and "a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image," in country after country may, to use Bishop Diarmuid Martin's words, "even be empty."

I agree with Michael O'Brien of Right to Peace in Ireland, who said, "It's unbelievable what we heard today from the pope, this is the man who is in charge of the Catholic church worldwide and he hadn't even the gumption to say he was sorry for what happened to us.

"All he's done now is to add salt to the wounds, and this is very hurtful," he added. "We were expecting something and we got nothing."

While the Roman Catholic church in Ireland has its own variation of child abuse perpetrated by clergy and religious, the underlying causes are much the same in Ireland as they are in the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany as well as other European and African countries.

The problems are endemic and systemic to the hierarchical and governmental systems of the Roman Catholic church. They are certainly not peculiar to Ireland.

It is not as if Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Holy Office, does not have the most extensive background in the history of the church's sexual abuse problems involving children, young boys, girls and vulnerable adults which also includes women religious and younger members of religious communities like the Legion of Christ.

Unlike his predecessor, Benedict does not have to depend on others for the facts, because he already has much of that information because of his previous position.

The problem was and continues to be the unbridled abuse of power and authority by an episcopacy that put what was the good name of an institution before the well being of its most vulnerable members.

Until or unless Pope Benedict acknowledges and addresses the governmental structures and policies that led to this terrible abuse of power by the bishops and other church authorities, an infinite number of words of sympathy or shock will not be enough to assuage what those victim/survivors have suffered at the hands of abusers while others continue to suffer because of what they have learned about the criminal and immoral actions of the episcopacy.

The cover-up of the physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse of children did not happen in a vacuum in Ireland any more than it happened in a vacuum in the United States, Canada or Australia.

The abuse happened. That's factual and cannot be disputed. In the United States, for example, it wasn't caused by the permissive attitude of the people in New England. It cannot be dismissed as an American problem, and it was not caused by the presence of homosexuals in the priesthood. Homosexuality does not cause the sexual abuse of children any more than heterosexuality causes the sexual abuse of children.

Rather the question that has to be asked and answered is what is wrong with the underlying governmental structures of the institutional Roman Catholic church that gave bishops license to act with such utter abandon of its most vulnerable members in countries worldwide?

What flaws in the fabric of the church contributed to the bishops actually enabling further abuse by transferring priests from place to place over many years while threatening and intimidating victims and their families? What allowed this conspiracy, this collusion to happen in country after country and on such a scale?

There should be some outline, a paradigm of reform and renewal included in the pope's expected pastoral letter to the People of God in Ireland.

Such a letter from the pope will be read very carefully by peoples around the world who expected something more substantive than just the words of sympathy and concern they received when the pope visited their countries, especially the United States where not one bishop was removed from office or criminally prosecuted because of his part in covering up for abusive clerics and enabling their continued abuse over long periods of time.

It appears now that such a pastoral letter to Ireland will not be forthcoming and that will be a tragedy because the People of God did have hope.

They expected more from those they considered leaders.

[* Maureen Paul Turlish, a Sister of Notre Dame de Naumr, is a victims' advocate and writes from New Castle, Del.]

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 USA ~ February 19, 2010

From Where I Stand

A divide that may not be bridged

by  Joan Chittister*

Being in Ireland as the country and the church continue the torturous process of resolving -- if that's possible -- the standoff between victims of sexual abuse and the local episcopacy, I find myself returning again and again to a strange but impelling image from a filmic past.

It is the closing scene of Frederico Fellini's 1960 Italian film masterpiece, "La Dolce Vita," the scene on the beach in which you expect to see the man's search for love finally resolved. He is a professional figure, a sophisticated man who specializes in beguiling women and then abandoning them. This last encounter with a simple young woman on the beach seems idyllic. Now, you're certain, love will soften the differences fate has created between them. But the movement of each character toward the other stops. Between them on the shore is an inlet too wide to negotiate in suit and shoes. As the tide comes in and the inlet widens they attempt a conversation, calling to one another across the gulf, but, you come to realize, they are not capable of either hearing or understanding what the other one is saying. And therein lies the tale. There are encounters in which, without great effort on both sides, communication, however desirable, is not possible.

I've been watching the Irish sex abuse situation here for years. And learning about communication from every minute of it. This is not the United States of America. This is Catholic Ireland. Nothing could be more different than these two cultures in their approach to a church problem. In the United States when the sexual abuse crisis erupted and the church retreated behind a plexiglass of legal responses, people picketed churches, signed petitions, demonstrated outside chanceries, and formed protest groups.

In Ireland, the response had another kind of chill about it, however. In Ireland the gulf got wider and deeper by the day. It felt like the massive turning of a silent back against the bell towers and statues and holy water fonts behind it. No major public protests occurred. "Not at all," as they are fond of saying. But the situation moved at the upper echelon of the country relatively quietly but like a glacier. Slowly but inexorably.

A country which, until recently, checked its constitution against "the teachings of the church" and had, therefore, allowed no contraceptives to be sold within its boundaries, unleashed its entire legal and political system against the storm.

They broke a hundred years of silence about the abuse of unwed mothers in the so-called "Magdalene Launderies." They investigated the treatment of orphaned or homeless children in the "industrial schools" of the country where physical abuse had long been common. The government itself took public responsibility for having failed to monitor these state-owned but church-run programs. And they assessed compensatory damages, the results of which are still under review in the national parliament.

Meanwhile, the average Irish person in the pews digested the information and, at the same time, calmly but clearly to declare a separation between "the faith and the church," between the sacramental system and the individual conscience. The sacraments they continued to respect, but church attendance has tumbled in the cities. Their individual consciences, on the other hand, they reclaimed. "They won't be telling us what to do anymore," an old man on the street said in one of the earliest public interviews on the problem. "We'll be deciding that for ourselves." And, to judge by local conversations and polling data years later, nothing much has changed in that regard.

The fact is that there is still an undigested part of the problem that may well determine the responses of the next generation toward both faith and church more than it affects this one. For them, the issue is not the nature of fallen humanity. Mortal frailty the Irish have learned well over the centuries. The issue is responsibility. On two levels.

The survivor's response to the meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with the Irish Episcopacy had the ring of repugnance about it. "Pope Benedict," Andrew Madden, a spokesperson for the survivors said, "has not articulated full acceptance of the findings of the Murphy Report, as we asked him to do," (RTE1 News, February 16.) That is needed, he went on, "to quell the rise in revisionism and the surge in denial from some quarters within the Catholic church in relation to its findings."

The message is clear:

First, until the church, in an official way, admits that the findings of the Murphy Report on the overwhelming amount of child abuse that went on in Dublin are true and accepts responsibility for the climate that made cover up an episcopal practice, the case, at least in the victims' minds, is not closed. Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel lamented that the Murphy investigation might well be extended to all the dioceses in Ireland. If that happens, he said, "the past won't be past for a long time."

Second, until the bishops who were part of the cover up all resign, the victims argue, the church will not have proven either their rejection of the practice, their determination to change or their ownership of the problem.

Point: Four bishops criticized in the report have offered their resignations, but so far the pope has officially accepted only one of them. a fifth bishop criticized in the report, Martin Drennan of Galway and Kilmacduagh, has said he did nothing wrong and won't resign. All were auxiliary bishops at the time of the first reports of abuse. They did nothing to bring the situation to light. But none of them, no one in the Irish episcopacy, has yet to admit to their own role in a cover-up. No bishop, in a land where the burden of guilt fell heavily on the backs of Irish people, has admitted his own guilt, his own defense of the institution rather than the care of the children. No one has said, "The church -- I -- was wrong in the handling of this scandal. Therefore, I, too, am responsible for this abuse."

So how are the Irish people reacting to the impasse? Well, as they opened Catholic Schools Week in Ireland this month, the Market Research Bureau of Ireland was reporting that 74 percent of the population think that "the church did not react properly to the Murphy Report" and that 61 percent of the population "want no Catholic control of elementary schools." Little more than half of the respondents think the church will really change to prevent abuse in the future, and 47 percent feel more negative than before toward the church.

Most telling of all, perhaps, is the fact that the support of the older generation which, at its best, was once only marginally higher than the support of 18-24 year olds, may be shifting even lower. "The fallout from the Murphy report was a shock to the bishops," Archbishop Clifford said, and "had a far greater negative effect on older people than the previous two investigations had been."

"While they were preaching at us they were damaging our children," an old woman said. "What more can you say?"

From where I stand, it seems that the long-awaited meeting between the pope and the bishops of Ireland is over now, more with a yawn than a standing ovation. In true Irish fashion, everybody's talking about it, but if the data is saying anything, it may be that the love affair between the people and the church is on very rocky ground; one side is not hearing the other and the gulf is growing wider every day.

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* A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Joan Chittister is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer on topics of justice, peace, human rights, women's issues, and contemporary spirituality in the Church and in society. She presently serves as the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the United Nations, facilitating a worldwide network of women peace builders, especially in the Middle East. Sister Joan's most recent books include The Way We Were (Orbis) and Called to Question (Sheed & Ward), a First Place CPA 2005 award winner. She is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource for contemporary spirituality
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 Thursday, 18 February 2010

Why the Pope's solution is simply beyond belief

By Malachi O'Doherty

Benedict's failure to carpet the Irish bishops over child sex-abuse is proof of a Church bereft of either backbone or principle

For the Pope to say that the raping of children is a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin" is merely to make a statement of the obvious. For him not to have said it on Tuesday, after his meeting with the Irish bishops, would have been a story.

Yet much of the media responded as if these were brave words, a rallying call to a demoralised Church to recover its focus.

Actually, what he said was just a statement of the obvious, almost a tautology like 'Sin is a bad thing'.

He said also that the problem of sex-abuse by priests had arisen from a "weakening of faith".

Taking account of what the bishops had told him, his pastoral letter will now be issued during Lent.

It will, apparently, be a call on Catholics to strengthen their faith and restore the damaged relationship between the clergy and the people.

The Pope's words have been deeply disheartening for those who thought that he was going to carpet the bishops, demand some resignations, or at least accept the ones that have been offered, and impress the Irish with his vigour.

After all, this Pope is the notorious Joseph Ratzinger who, in the past has been well able to strike terror into the hearts of creative theologians he disagreed with and have them cast out of their teaching jobs in Catholic universities and seminaries.

He clearly has the resolve to get rid of those who offend his principles when he wants to, so, many thought, no bad thing if that famous wrath gets turned on the wimps and moral cowards among the Irish bishops and scatters them.

So why didn't it happen?

Well, probably because the Pope, inevitably, sees abuse of children by priests as a spiritual problem with a spiritual answer.

If you go to a biologist for an answer to the problem of celibate priests tinkering with children, you might get a recommendation of chemical castration or hormone therapy; go to a pope and you'll be told to pray. It's what popes do.

So we got the call for the bishops to observe the penitential season of Lent, to show true humility and to, in effect, pull themselves together and work to recover their standing among the Irish people.

Pope Benedict's preferred outcome from this crisis is that a celibate and male priesthood will once again inspire reverence in Ireland - and the sooner the better.

The optimism and relief exuded by Cardinal Brady at his Press conference, as he anticipated 'humiliation', suggests that he likes the medicine the Pope has prescribed.

But does Sean Brady seriously expect that the Catholics of Ireland will take heart from his readiness to face Lent in a prayerful and humble way?

Is it likely that most Catholics really believe that the abuse of children by priests is just a spiritual problem, arising from their forgetting to say their prayers and, therefore, remedied by more intense devotion?

The papal message appears to be that there is nothing wrong with Catholicism that can not be put right by Catholic teaching.

At the same time, many Catholics believe that what is really required now is a radical overhaul of the Church, an end to the bar on priests having sex lives of any kind and the ordination of women. It was always inconceivable that Pope Benedict and the bishops would have come up with solutions like those.
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 Dublin ~ Friday February 19 2010

Window-dressing of papal meeting a PR catastrophe

Pope Benedict: confirmed the worst expectations of his critics by failing to announce measures to tackle clerical sex abuse

By David Quinn

We don't know what happened behind the scenes when the bishops met the Pope and his officials on Monday and Tuesday in Rome. Maybe something of substance will come from the meeting in time. For the sake of the Catholic Church in Ireland, it had better.

But taken at face value, the meeting was worse than a non-event -- it was close to a PR disaster, which Archbishop Diarmuid Martin partially rescued when speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

Obviously the meeting was never going to meet everyone's expectations. For example, Bishop Martin Drennan was never going to be asked to resign.

The Murphy report clears him of any wrongdoing and he was not a part of the diocesan administration in Dublin during the era when the diocese was disastrously mishandling abuse allegations.

That era lasted until around the mid-1990s. Its epicentre was the 1970s and 1980s, when there was an almost complete breakdown of authority and discipline in the church in Ireland.

Martin Drennan did not become an auxiliary bishop in Dublin until 1997, which was after the diocese started to get things right, as the Murphy report confirms.

Nor was the meeting ever going to result in the lifting of the celibacy rule, or the ban on women priests, or in the rescinding of the ban on artificial birth control, or in direct election of bishops by the laity, or in any other part of the liberal wish-list that has been the death-knell for every church that has ever adopted it.

In other words, there was no way this meeting was ever going to win general approval and applause. It was always going to disappoint the victims, and it was always going to disappoint the media.

All that said, did it have to be such an apparent non-event? Right at the start, when the bishops first met the Pope, the optics were wrong. They were filmed kissing the papal ring. There is no way they weren't going to do this. It is always done.

One veteran Rome correspondent told a colleague that he has never come across another group of reporters complaining about this gesture, which is simply a mark of respect for the office.

But he didn't count on Irish journalists in their present mood. In their present mood the gesture was equivalent to nationalists having to watch an Irish politician bow to the Queen of England circa 1955. I remind you again that church-bashing is the new Brit-bashing.

Given these realities, this first meeting with the Pope should have taken place in private, away from the cameras. Pope Benedict should have been filmed with the bishops later.

Each bishop was given seven minutes to say something to the Pope about what is happening in Ireland. Each should have been given seven minutes on their own so that they could speak freely. Making them deliver their seven minutes in front of their colleagues was also a mistake.

But the worst mistake was the final one. To simply issue a statement without any action confirmed the worst expectations of the critics and made life much harder for those of us who still care for the church, despite everything.

The statement was fine in its own way. The section that blamed the scandals in part on a "general crisis of faith affecting the church" was misunderstood. Obviously if the abusing priests had a deeper Christian faith, they would not have abused children. Likewise, the bishops would have dealt with the allegations properly.

But the statement had to be more than words. At a minimum it should have announced that the Pope had accepted the resignations of Bishops Eamonn Walsh, James Moriarty and Raymond Field, all of which were offered over Christmas. That is more than six weeks ago.

It should also have announced that every other bishop would examine how he dealt with the scandals that came before him, and that if he dealt with them badly enough, then he would have to offer his resignation as well.

Possibly, it should have announced the appointment of a papal legate to Ireland with the specific task of ensuring that the church's credibility on this issue is restored, and also to conduct a general inspection of the Irish church in its present dilapidated state, and then to report back to Rome about what needs to be done to put it right.

The meeting between the Pope and the bishops this week was actually unprecedented. No Pope has ever before summoned an entire national hierarchy to discuss the issue of clerical sex abuse. In itself, the meeting was a good thing, but what came of it is more important.

Perhaps the Pope is saving up announcing more concrete measures for his pastoral letter to the church in Ireland. Perhaps we should wait until then before judging the meeting.

But at the time of writing, the meeting, instead of being a step forward, looks horribly like the piece of window-dressing its worst critics say it is. We will know for sure in a few weeks 

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 Dublin ~ Thursday February 18 2010

Editorial:

Fallout from Rome summit

WHAT a loyal servant of the Church Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is. His valiant attempt to salvage some modicum of dignity from what could crudely be described as a public relations disaster for Pope Benedict and the institution of the Catholic Church almost succeeded.

But not entirely.

If the Irish bishops went to Rome for no other purpose than to brief the Pope so that he can draft a letter to the Catholics of Ireland, that should have been clearly stated before all the pomp and pageantry in the Apostolic Palace created the impression that something positive was going to come of it for the victims of priestly child abuse.

The outcome did not reflect the original understanding that 24 of the country's leading clerics had been summoned to the Vatican to answer for the mishandling of child abuse and the evil behaviour revealed in the Ryan report on state-run institutions, and the Murphy report on cover-ups in the Dublin diocese.

In particular, there was no public acknowledgement of, or apology for, the criminal behaviour of senior churchmen in moving paedophiles from place to place to protect them.

Yesterday, however, Dr Martin defended the Pope's approach and promised that "other things" will happen.

If the other things include a credible apology and a meeting between Pope Benedict and Irish victims of abuse, the Pope should simply say so. This would spare his bishops some embarrassment and tell the victims that they are no longer being regarded as inconveniences rather than people. 

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 Dublin ~ Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Editorial:

An opportunity missed in Rome

If the outcome of the meeting between Pope Benedict and the Irish bishops is a golden opportunity missed, then the damage has been done and the Pope and his bishops will find it very difficult to undo. The subsequent statement, described by one disappointed Irish priest as a clerical club talking to itself, contains so many odd nuances and omissions that it must puzzle victims of clerical abuse almost as much as it infuriates them.

It had been hoped that the Irish bishops would remind the Holy Father and the Roman Curia that child sexual abuse by Catholic priests was not confined to Ireland and that its proliferation around the globe, notably in the Pope's homeland, cries out for radical change and fresh thinking.

It was left to Cardinal Sean Brady, at a press conference later, to point out the global scale of Catholic clerical child abuse.

The Vatican statement contained no mention of a proven culture of cover-up that emanated from the Vatican itself. For example, officials of the Dublin Archdiocese told the Murphy commission they never felt they had the support of Rome in dealing with abuse.

Three major documents on clerical child abuse in this country have called for mandatory reporting of the crime to the civil authorities.

Pope Benedict conceded yesterday that child abuse was a heinous crime, but did not add that bishops' common practice of moving known abusers from parish to parish without reporting their crimes to the police was also a heinous crime.

The Vatican statement is being seen by some as an attempt to minimise culpability. Certainly the Holy Father's suggestion that a weakening of faith was a factor in the "phenomenon" of the sexual abuse of "minors" will sound strange to those who were raped as children.

It appears there was no discussion about bishops' resignations, certainly no acceptance of offers to resign, indicating some disregard for the findings of the Murphy Report.

Neither was anything said about the refusal of the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador in Ireland, to co-operate with the Murphy commission in the name of diplomatic protocol.

If the outcome of two days of talk in the Vatican is somehow seen as being misinterpreted, that could have been avoided with a straightforward explanation of what exactly was achieved.
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 Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Editorial:

The bishops in the Vatican

IT WAS, the Vatican press office statement made clear, a “failure of the Irish Church authorities” that they were discussing. The unprecedented meetings on Monday and yesterday between Pope Benedict XVI, his senior Curia advisers, and the Irish bishops provided “guidance and support to the bishops in their efforts to address the situation in their respective dioceses”. Their efforts, their dioceses. The Irish bishops are out on their own?

Although the meeting acknowledged that “errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis”, disappointingly there appears to have been no recognition either of the systemic nature of the “failure” or the possibility that Rome itself played its part either in creating or sustaining the culture of silence and impunity that the Murphy report highlighted, or in its responses to individual cases.

The important issue of the reform of church governance only arose as an aside at the press conference after the meeting and, it has to be said, the Vatican statement on the discussions is as revealing in what it does not say as in what it does. There was apparently no discussion of the need for the Vatican to open its correspondence to public scrutiny – indeed Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi afterwards was dismissive of the suggestion that the papal nuncio to Ireland should explain himself to a Dáil committee. Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, as a diplomat, “has to respond to rules” about diplomatic privilege. “If this is not part of his duty, you can’t expect him” to testify, Rev Lombardi told journalists. Nor was there any discussion of resignations, or of possible meetings between the pope and survivors.

The bishops made a welcome commitment “to co-operation with the statutory authorities – North and South – and with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland” and acknowledged the significant measures which have been taken to “ensure the safety” of children.

And the pope spoke with pain of the “heinous crime” of child abuse, of the need to restore the moral and spiritual authority of the church, and urged bishops “to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve”. He pointedly expressed the hope that the meeting would help to unify them, enabling them to speak with one voice. This suggestion was understood to mean the one, united voice of Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

In his more general comments the pontiff returned to the well rehearsed theme of alienation in modern materialistic society, linking the crisis of faith affecting the church to “the lack of respect for the human person” in society. He argued that such weakening of the faith “has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors”. Others might well reply that the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics has been a significant contributing factor in the weakening of faith. Perhaps the two views are compatible, each process reinforcing the other. What the faithful in Ireland want is for their church to fully absorb that fundamental truth.
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 Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Editorial:

Abuse victims want action, not words

There were many fine words from Pope Benedict after his unprecedented two day meeting with Irish bishops on the issue of child abuse.

His description of the crimes as ‘heinous’ and ‘a grave sin’ and his call for the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve and the current crisis in the church in Ireland with honesty and courage, echoed the revulsion people feel about clerical abuse of children.

But neither the Pope nor Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, put forward any practical steps the hierarchy will, or can, take to redress the wrongs done to so many young |people over such a protracted period of time. It is fine to use theological terms like repentance and atonement, but victims want action.

There was no suggestion that the victims’ principal demands ­ the resignation of all the Bishops named in the Murphy report into child abuse and a meeting with the Pope when he comes to the UK ­ will be met. Of course, the task of rebuilding faith in the church in Ireland and in the clergy lies with the Irish hierarchy. They must ensure that every assistance is given to the civil authorities investigating allegations of abuse and that victims are treated sympathetically.

The hierarchy should also consider extending its investigations north of the border. While we already know of some clerical paedophiles such as Fr Brendan Smyth who served in Northern Ireland, there may be other allegations which have gone unheeded.

The Pope recognises that the Catholic Church in Ireland has been badly shaken by the whole clerical abuse issue. His hope that it can regain its authority may be more wishful thinking than reality. The Irish hierarchy has an enormous job to do just to retain its current congregations never mind build upon them.
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 Dublin ~ Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vatican has helped to spawn global scourge of sex abuse

By John Cooney

Rome is proud of its claim to be the "Eternal City". For 2,000 years it has claimed to be the moral arbiter of world affairs. Over the centuries, it has always managed to weather the storms of heresy, Reformation, the disunity of Christendom and secularist attacks from ungodly governments and literary critics.

Rome too, has also survived scandals arising from bad popes, who have been worldly, corrupt and sexually lecherous, even siring offspring from illegitimate carnal relations with women.

However, the crisis of child clerical sexual abuse is threatening to pose the biggest challenge ever to the Vatican's moral authority.

Yet, the late Pope John Paul II, ably and zealously aided by his then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger, was more concerned with removing dissident theologians from being recognised as orthodox Catholic scholars than with defrocking paedophile priests and ensuring full cooperation with the civic authority.

Rather than let the state authorities know of such foul deeds of errant clerics, the Vatican itself, its representatives in the national churches and the religious orders stealthily avoided being made accountable for the crimes of abusive priests and nuns in courts of law.

If the church was not too busy switching paedophile priests from parish to parish undetected by the unsuspecting faithful, it reserved chastisement for its worst child molesters in secret church tribunals held in Latin behind closed doors.

Today, as Pope Benedict XVI, the former Joseph Ratzinger, now finds himself having to recognise that the abuse issue is not just an American, an Anglo-Saxon or an Irish problem. It is patently an international problem which the Vatican has centrally helped to spawn by its long tradition of hushing up clerical sexual scandals and of putting its own prestige above the welfare of the millions of children whose unformed minds they seek to control through indoctrination in church-run schools.

Although Pope Benedict has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to "the filth" in the church, and has met victims on his travels, he turned the focus of the Irish bishops to the more general crisis of faith affecting the church, which he linked to the lack of respect for the human person.

Bishop of Meath Michael Smith placed this in the context of the ultra-conservative Pope's conviction that the teachings of the second Vatican Council were misinterpreted by liberal theologians and a la carte Catholics, resulting in a lack of moral values.

This was underlined by Pope Benedict's claim that "the weakening of faith (in Ireland) has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors", a remark that has been greeted with outrage and insult by victims of abuse.

Although Cardinal Sean Brady, along with Bishops Joseph Duffy, Dennis Brennan and Brendan Kelly and Smith, all testified that they were aware of the hurt, anger and bewilderment felt by the Catholic faithful to the abuses and the systematic cover-ups, they also said that they have been humbled "to hang-in" by devout lay people who believe that Jesus Christ will be with his church to the end of time.

No doubt, this is the stoic response of many Irish souls, but the young and alienated women have given up on the church, the middle-aged have lost all faith in the clerical church becoming a People's Church, and even the elderly are refusing to go to Mass and are abandoning the faith of their fathers and mothers.

Does Pope Benedict and the bishops not yet understand that it is the abusive priests and the cover-ups that have weakened people's faith and trust in their church leaders?

If this thesis forms the core of the papal pastoral Lenten promised before Easter Sunday, it will be Pope Benedict who will be responsible for a further steep decline of Catholic faith in Ireland.

Furthermore, the Pope's call for "a deeper theological reflection" on the whole abuse issue is geared at rigid imposition of his narrow theological outlook in the academic preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life and of those already ordained and professed.


Not surprisingly, the present head of the eternal church realises that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, and he has expressed the hope that the Rome summit will help "to unify the bishops and enable them to speak with one voice" -- his voice.

It was instructive to hear Cardinal Brady say that there was no disunity among the bishops in making child protection their priority, and that the tensions did not refer to public rows between Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Bishop Martin Drennan over accountability.

The cardinal revealed that there were tensions over whether penitential services should be held in Lough Derg or at the Marian Shrine of Knock. Such a display of sackcloth and ashes by the bishops does not impress victims and survivors who would rather be invited to the Vatican to tell their stories directly to Pope Benedict.

The Pope and the bishops have missed a golden opportunity to bring the victims and survivors to the Eternal City.
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 Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Disappointment and dismay at meetings 'charade'

By ALISON HEALY

SUPPORT GROUPS: GROUPS REPRESENTING survivors of abuse have expressed dismay and disappointment at the outcome of the meeting between the Irish bishops and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

Campaigner Christine Buckley described the Vatican meetings as “a charade”, while One in Four said the response was “extremely inadequate”.

Maeve Lewis (left), executive director of One in Four, with Mary O'Rourke TD, chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, at the launch of the One In Four 2008 Annual Report in Dublin (Photograph: Eric Luke)

One in Four director Maeve Lewis said expectations had been high that the Vatican and the Irish bishops would fully acknowledge the role of the institutional Catholic Church in protecting sex offenders at the expense of vulnerable children. She said it had been expected that a clear plan for the future would be offered.

“We are also disappointed that the pope has offered no explanation for the failure of the Vatican and the papal nuncio to co-operate with the Murphy commission,” she said. “Instead, the Vatican has accepted no responsibility for its role in facilitating the sexual abuse of children, referring only to the Irish church, and only vague declarations of intent for the future are included.”

She said while the bishops’ commitment to co-operation with the State authorities was welcome “the response is . . . extremely inadequate. There seems to have been very little progress in the course of the meeting.”

Christine Buckley of the Aislinn support centre said she was “dismayed and terribly sad” at the outcome of the bishops’ visit.

“It was an absolute and utter charade from beginning to end. It was a pretend slap on the hand from Pope Benedict. There was nothing discussed in relation to Bishop Drennan. Saying it was not only an Irish problem was wrong. The evil and the seeds were sown here in Ireland.”

Ms Buckley also criticised the focus of the meeting on diocesan abuse, rather than on abuse in Catholic-run institutions.

She said she had really hoped the pope would have taken a lead on the issue and would have announced that he was coming to Ireland to meet with victims of institutional and sexual abuse.

“He has washed his hands of it,” she said and she urged the pope to include a visit to Ireland in his itinerary when he visits Britain in September. “I really though he would have said that all bishops who knew about abuses had to resign . . . And to reinforce this, he was coming to Ireland and [would] meet victims and abusers. But none of this happened. We got absolutely nothing from it.”

She said questions needed to be asked about the pope’s future. “This pope is living in some kind of la la land . . . he hasn’t got an iota of an idea of the pain that people are suffering.”

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 Dublin ~ Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pope has 'washed hands' of our abuse: victims

Cardinal Sean Brady pictured at a press conference following meetings with Pope Benedict XVI. Photo: Getty Images

By John Cooney in Rome and Ciaran Byrne

FURIOUS victims of clerical sex abuse last night accused the Pope of "washing his hands" of the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Victims condemned Pope Benedict XVI for not acknowledging that senior clergy covered up decades of abuse.

They said the pontiff's unprecedented two-day summit with the 24 Irish bishops in the Vatican was "a charade", which had achieved nothing.

The bishops were summoned to Rome over the past mishandling of child abuse scandals that rocked the church last year.

The Ryan report found that the Catholic Church and Irish Government covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in state care. And the Murphy report unveiled a catalogue of cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin to protect the church.

But in a Vatican statement, the Pope failed to acknowledge the cover-up or apologise for the abuse -- leading to widespread condemnation from victims.

The Pope also failed to sack under-fire Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan -- or even formally accept the resignations of other bishops who were criticised in the Murphy report for their mishandling of cases of sexual abuse.

The pontiff also ignored the failure of the Papal Nuncio to co-operate with the Murphy Commission's investigation into abuse in Dublin.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Holy Father told the bishops the sexual abuse of children and young people was not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image.

"While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage," it stated.

The Vatican said the Pope also told bishops the weakening of faith was a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors.

Maeve Lewis, of support group One in Four, hit back and said Pope Benedict's response was inadequate.

"It is deeply insulting to survivors to suggest that they were abused due to failures of faith, rather than because sex-offending priests were moved from parish to parish, and those in authority looked away while further children were sexually abused," she said.

Concerns
Campaigner Andrew Madden, who was abused by Dublin priest Ivan Payne, said the meeting showed "self-preservation" was the church's priority. He said Pope Benedict and the bishops placed this over the concerns of people who had been abused for decades.

"I can only conclude the Catholic Church remains a disgraced, discredited organisation that seems to be entirely incapable of responding in any intelligent, meaningful way to the findings of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports," he said.

Abuse victim and campaigner Marie Collins said the Pope insulted the survivors by failing to put the bishops' resignations on the agenda and again ignoring the chance of reforms.

"This is a clerical club in a clerical world. . . they are living in a different century," she said. "I see no hope for the future."

Goldenbridge orphanage survivor Christine Buckley labelled the Vatican's statement on abuse in Ireland "a charade".

She said she was disappointed with news the Pope is to issue a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on the scandal.

"This is a charade. A collection of 24 bishops who appear to have been lectured about the disunity of their members rather than trying to find out why these abuses happened. Instead the Pope has washed his hands of it, he thinks a Lenten pastoral letter is going to help our pain. No, it is not."

The Rape Crisis Network also expressed deep disappointment at the outcome of the meeting.

Executive director Fiona Neary said: "It is now clear that the most senior levels of Catholic institutions remain unable to take responsibility for their collusion with the abuse of children in Ireland."

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 Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Vatican's child abuse summit is a charade, say victims

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Irish bishops at the Vatican (AP)

Victims of clerical sex abuse last night accused the Pope of “washing his hands” of the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Abuse survivors condemned the Pope Benedict XVI for not acknowledging that senior clergy covered up decades of sickening abuse.

They said the Pontiff's unprecedented two-day summit with the 24 Irish bishops in the Vatican in Rome was “a charade” that had achieved nothing.

The 24 senior clergy were summoned to Rome over the past mishandling of child abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland in the last year.

The Ryan Report found the Catholic Church and Irish government covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in State care. And the Murphy Report unveiled a catalogue of cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin to protect the Church.

But in a Vatican statement, the Pope specifically failed to acknowledge the cover-up or formally apologise for the abuse ­ leading to widespread condemnation from victims last night.

The Pope also failed to sack under-fire Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan ­ or even formally accept the resignations of other bishops, who were criticised in the Murphy Report for their mishandling of cases of sexual abuse.

The Pontiff also ignored the failure of the Papal Nuncio to co-operate with the Murphy Commission's investigation into abuse in Dublin.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Pope had told the bishops the sexual abuse of children and young people was not only a heinous crime, but also a “grave sin that offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image”.

“While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage,” it said.

The Vatican said the Pope also told bishops the weakening of faith was a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors.

Maeve Lewis, of support group One in Four, hit back and said the Pope's response was inadequate. “It is deeply insulting to survivors to suggest they were abused due to failures of faith, rather than because sex offending priests were moved from parish to parish, and those in authority looked away while further children were sexually abused,” she said.

Campaigner Andrew Madden, who was abused by Dublin priest Father Ivan Payne, said the meeting showed “self-preservation” was the Church's priority.

He said Pope Benedict and the bishops placed this over the concerns of people who had been abused for decades.

“That hardly represents change,” Mr Madden said last night. “I can only conclude the Catholic Church remains a disgraced, discredited organisation that seems to be entirely incapable of responding in any intelligent, meaningful way to the findings of the Ferns, Ryan and Murphy reports.”

Abuse victim and campaigner Marie Collins said the Pope had insulted the survivors by failing to put the bishops' resignations on the agenda and again ignoring the chance of reforms.

“This is a clerical club in a clerical world ... they are people who live in a different century,” she said after hearing the details. “I see no hope for the future.”

She said the Pope had said paedophilia was a “heinous crime” but he should have said that it was a heinous crime for a bishop to put an abusive priest in charge of children.

Goldenbridge orphanage survivor Christine Buckley labelled the Vatican's statement on abuse in Ireland “a charade”.

She said she was profoundly disappointed with news the Pope is to issue a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on the scandal. “This is a charade. A collection of 24 bishops who appear to have been lectured about the tensions and the disunity of their members rather than trying to find out why these abuses happened and how to resolve them,” she said.

“The other part of the statement that really hurts me is there was 17 hours spent on diocesan abuse, there was half an hour spent on the Ryan abuses.

“I'm normally an optimist and for some unknown reason I really thought that the Pope was going to say, ‘let's start with Ireland. I will go to Ireland. I will meet with the victims of institutional and clerical abuse’.

“‘I will unveil a memorial. I will start a first world conference for victims of institutional and sexual abuse'. Instead he has washed his hands of it, he thinks it's okay and that a Lenten pastoral letter is going to help our pain. No, it is not.”

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 Dublin ~ Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let them never preach high standards to anyone again

By Andrew Madden

WE have just witnessed the grandest two days of window-dressing I have ever seen.

The bishops and the Vatican are the people who billed this event as highly significant and yet they are the ones that at the end of it produced a statement which could have been written last year.

I wasn't expecting anything meaningful and that is exactly what we have got -- nothing intelligent, nothing coherent, nothing new.

What is particularly annoying in the statement is the fact that Pope Benedict XVI asked the bishops to identify steps that might bring healing to victims.

But victims have already submitted coherent requests as to what they would like to see happen -- and those have been completely ignored.

It is completely inappropriate to ignore our submissions and then say that the bishops need to identify the sort of things that would help victims.

We had very specific requests that didn't involve a fundamental reorganisation of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which is a huge piece of work.

The things we asked for were very precise.

We asked that the Pope fully articulate an acceptance of the findings of the Murphy report. We wanted that in order to quell the rise in denial and the surge in revisionism taking place among some priests and some bishops in Ireland.

They are people who find the word of the Pope important so it would have been crucial for him to express the view that the Catholic Church accepts the findings of the Murphy report. That is a very simple thing that they failed to do.

We also referred to the resignations of three bishops that have been on the Pope's desk for some time and have not been accepted as yet, which is worrying. We asked for that to be addressed. It hasn't been.

We also reminded the Pope that we found the presence of Bishop Martin Drennan in Galway objectionable given that when he arrived in the Archdiocese of Dublin in 1997 as an auxiliary bishop, he arrived in a diocese which had already been embroiled in scandal over the way it handled child sexual abuse.

To date, he has not publicly identified a single action and said, "that is what I did in response to challenge that culture of secrecy and cover-up that existed in Dublin when I arrived". That is turning a blind eye. That is why he should resign.

We are also mindful of the fact the rest of the bishops, at the end of their winter conference last December, issued a statement and included in it an expression of shame at the extent to which the sexual abuse of children was covered up in Dublin.

The bishops also said that this was indicative of a culture that existed throughout the church in Ireland and, on that basis, we said that any other bishops who felt their dioceses would not stand up to the same scrutiny as Dublin for the same reasons should resign now and not wait for any inquiry to find against them. That issue has been completely ignored.

The last thing we asked was that bishops coming back to Ireland would come back with the expressed instruction from the Pope to obey and follow all state guidelines and protocols as they exist and as they are developed in the future in relation to child protection. That too has been completely ignored.

All of these things could have been decided in five minutes.

The church has failed children and it is now failing those children who have asked for very specific and very simple responses.

The only engagement I would be willing to have with them now is to meet Archbishop Diarmuid Martin when he comes back to Ireland and ask him the extent to which the things we asked for were considered because the two days of meetings went on behind closed doors. I would like to know why he has come back empty-handed.

The church has a future for those who want to keep their heads buried in the sand and live with the same denial that some of the bishops and priests want to do following publication of the Murphy report.

Let them never preach high standards of anything to anyone ever again given how they have behaved and continue to behave.

Andrew Madden is a survivor of clerical child sex abuse

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 Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pope should have invited abuse victims to Rome

ANALYSIS: The meeting with the Irish bishops appeared useful ahead of the pope’s pastoral letter to the Irish faithful, but a glorious opportunity to show respect to victims of clerical sex abuse has been missed, writes PATSY McGARRY

VETERAN VATICAN watchers will not be too surprised by the apparent lack of substance emerging from the “unprecedented”, “historic” and “unique” meeting between the great, the good and the Irish bishops over three lengthy sessions through Monday and yesterday.

But if it looked good – which it did – as an information-gathering exercise for Pope Benedict XVI and his Curia as they prepare a pastoral letter for the Irish Catholic faithful, which we now know will have resonance urbi et orbi, there was also yesterday a sense of glorious opportunity missed.

Why, oh why, did someone not whisper in the pope’s ear that this was just the occasion when he should publicly announce his intention of inviting Irish clerical abuse survivors to visit him in person in Rome, as he had the Irish bishops? Details could have been worked out later.

And Bishop Dennis Brennan of Ferns may not have played rugby but there was more than an element of kicking for touch when he said at yesterday’s press conference by the Irish bishops in Rome in response to such a question, that he was sure the pope would invite such survivors to meet him “when the time is right. They [victims] will tell us that.”

Equally, it became clear at that same press conference that none of the Irish bishops had queried the pope or the Curia on the Vatican’s part in the mishandling of clerical child sex abuse in Ireland. Nor did they ask about the lack of co-operation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the papal nunciature in Dublin with the Murphy commission.

Indeed, when asked about the papal nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza’s refusal to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Bishop Michael Smith of Meath ventured that media presentation of the matter was “a false one”. Protocol prevented ambassadors from doing such a thing, he said. Yet, when it was pointed out to him that the Israeli ambassador had appeared before the same committee in recent weeks, his response was a rather lame “that’s a matter for him”.

As expected, all five bishops at yesterday afternoon’s press conference spoke enthusiastically about their “unprecedented”, “historic”, “unique” meetings with the pope and the Curia. Bishop Smith, who admitted he had been sceptical about the usefulness of the exercise initially, said that in his 40 years taking part in such meetings, it was “as productive as I have ever attended”.

He was particularly impressed by the pope’s “tremendous engagement” with the discussions.

Bishop Joseph Duffy said the pope was “a marvellous listener”.

None of this was unexpected.

What was new was the information from Cardinal Seán Brady that the pope “recognises that it [clerical child sex abuse] is not an Irish problem, it is not an anglophone problem, it is not a Catholic Church problem,” but instead recognises that it is a problem with a universal provenance.

For far too long, Vatican insiders had been conveying the view that priestly paedophilia was an anglophone issue. Possibly the recent emergence of the issue as a serious one in Germany has prompted deeper reflection.

But two things in the pope’s own communique stood out. The candid sentence “Together they examined the failure of Irish church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious,” was refreshing in its blunt, honest, acknowledgment of the truth. But it must have jarred with some there yesterday.

Equally refreshing was the line later in the communique, which said the pope “expressed the hope that the present meeting would help to unify the bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith and restoring the church’s spiritual and moral credibility”.

The Irish bishops were at such pains last Sunday in media encounters to emphasise their unity. Yes, there had been “tensions”, they said, but these had all been ironed out at a retreat in Knock last week when there was that increasingly popular “open, honest and frank” exchange of views. They were now all singing off the same, and equally popular, hymn sheet, they said.

Clearly, it ain’t necessarily so. Or the pope is wrong.

This issue of “tensions” was in everyone’s face, so to speak, at the bishops’ press conference yesterday. The absence of the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin had a presence similar to Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s table. It hardly seemed an adequate explanation that the Archbishop of Dublin was missing because he had a pressing Ash Wednesday engagement in UCD today. It seemed reasonable to suppose the UCD authorities would have understood had he decided to stay on in Rome with his brother bishops as they addressed the greatest crisis in Irish Catholicism since the Penal Laws were passed.

Indeed, the sole evidence of Archbishop Martin’s presence in Rome since he arrived on Sunday evening was down to the word of his brother bishops and Vatican photographs of the Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Monday morning and of him meeting the pope shortly afterwards. His invisibility to the lay Irish present in Rome over recent days was equalled only by that of the Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan who clearly was keeping his head well down, the better to ensure it remained in situ.

But if there was disappointment on the part of some at the apparent lack of substance emerging from this marathon encounter between Rome and the Irish bishops, such judgment may be a tad premature. Without encouraging ridiculous expectations in the context, it seems only fair to await Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter to the Irish faithful and see what it contains.

His encounter this week with some of the more sanguine of the Irish bishops might prompt him to language and initiatives he had not intended previous to this week. He might also insist on a unity they dare not contemplate. This pope has engaged with the issue of clerical child sex abuse in a way his predecessor would not. He may surprise us yet. Let’s hope so.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent
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Dublin -  Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shatter repeats call for 'transparent dialogue'

By PAMELA DUNCAN

FINE GAEL REACTION: THE FAILURE of the papal nuncio and the Vatican to co-operate with the Murphy commission should have been addressed in yesterday’s statement from the Vatican, according to Fine Gael’s front bench spokesman on children.

Following the conclusion of the meeting between Pope Benedict and the Irish bishops, Alan Shatter said it was “regrettable” that the press release did not refer to the failure of the papal nuncio and the Vatican to co-operate with the Murphy commission’s investigation.

Mr Shatter reiterated his belief that the papal nuncio’s letter to the chairman of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee, in which he refused to meet with it, remained “deeply regrettable”.

“I am repeating my call on the Vatican and the Irish hierarchy to bring about a change of attitude and to engage in constructive transparent dialogue with regard to the manner in which the church has dealt with the issue of clerical child abuse, and the failure of the Vatican to provide assistance to the Murphy commission when it was sought,” Mr Shatter said.

In a letter to committee chairman Dr Michael Woods dated February 12th, the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, declined an invitation to appear in front of the committee, saying it was “not the practice of the Holy See that apostolic nuncios appear before parliamentary commissions”.

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 London ~ February 16, 2010

Ireland expects more than platitudes from the Pope over Church abuse

David Sharrock: commentary

If it wasn’t so grave an issue, the spectacle of Ireland’s most senior clergy dressed in their finery and lining up to defend themselves, one by one, in a seven-minute address to the Pope might have all the comic ingredients of a public school headmaster giving a ticking off to his prefects.

But, back home, a great deal rides on the outcome of the two-day Vatican meeting, an extraordinarily rare conference called to consider the damage wrought to the Roman Catholic Church by hundreds of Irish paedophile priests who assaulted their young, innocent charges for decades, seemingly with impunity. The past has finally caught up with them.

Last year two reports came to devastating conclusions about the role of religion in the life of the State. The first found that there was systemic sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Catholic-run residential institutes for children. The second said that the hierarchy had deliberately covered up the crimes of abusive priests, protecting them from the law, in order to save the Church’s reputation.

The decline of a Church that once ruled Ireland’s morals with an iron grip was already under way before the sexual abuse scandals began to emerge more than a decade ago. Mass attendance numbers received a boost from the inflow of Polish workers during the Celtic Tiger period but many have now returned home, leaving parishes wrestling with how to offer services in steadily emptying churches with an ageing pool of priests.

Ireland remains a culturally Catholic country but the favourite nation of many a Pontiff is no longer as quick to stoop to kiss his ring. Practising Irish Catholics expect more from Pope Benedict XVI than mere expressions of regret in the pastoral letter, which he has promised after listening to his Irish bishops.

Until now the Vatican’s stance has appeared to suggest that the scandals engulfing Ireland are a domestic matter for the Irish alone.

On Sunday the Bishop of Clogher, Joseph Duffy, said that he did not expect the pastoral letter to be issued soon, such are the complexities. The bishop also made a revealing comment about the level of the Pope’s own prior knowledge of the Irish scandals.

He said that the Pope was “very well clued in on this issue. Even before he became Pope he had access to the documentation and he knew exactly what was in the documentation. He wasn’t living in a fool’s paradise”.

In a previous role as Cardinal Ratzinger the Pope was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which reviews abuse claims against clergy.

For months there have been calls for the Vatican to open its archives to show its own role in responding to sex abuse cases in Ireland.

When the Murphy report into the Dublin diocese was published last year it emerged that the Papal Nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, had refused to co-operate with the tribunal, hiding behind a cloak of diplomatic protocol and “sovereign immunity”.

It has been suggested that the Vatican’s failure to set out a global code of conduct on child protection may have much to do with its reluctance to acknowledge its authority over national churches, with bishops and priests its agents in a legal sense.

This could lead to ruinously expensive claims for damages against the Pope by the tens of thousands of victims of abuse around the world.

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 Wednesday, 17 February 2010

‘Pope must not overlook suffering in Northern Ireland’

By Deborah McAleese

Pope Benedict XVI must not overlook the suffering of those who were abused while in the care of Church-run institutions in Northern Ireland, a victim of institutional abuse has said.

Margaret McGuckin, who was abused while in the care of the Nazareth Sisters in Belfast in the 1950s and 60s, said there must be recognition for those who suffered horrific abuse at the hands of nuns and priests in Church-run schools and orphanages here.

“The Pope needs to tidy this up everywhere, not just for the victims in the south. The victims in Northern Ireland need to be included in this. Hopefully we will get a mention in all of this,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

Margaret, who is at the fore of a major campaign for the Northern Ireland Executive to conduct a full assessment of the level of physical and emotional child abuse within institutes run by the religious orders, vowed not to back down until the suffering of the province’s victims was recognised.

She said that Northern Ireland needed to have its own Ryan-style report, which was published in the Republic last year. “More and more people are coming forward with their stories of the abuse they suffered. We are not going to be going away, our voices will not be silenced. We will not stop until we get counselling, recognition and an apology for what we went through.

“How can we stop now? All of this pain needs to be dealt with in a positive way,” said Margaret.

She added that, to date, not one Stormont minister has given a commitment to the victims to publicly acknowledge the abuse.

“It is an absolute disgrace, that even though they know this happened, not one Stormont minister will stand up and publicly acknowledge it. It has to be dealt with,” she said.

Meanwhile SDLP health spokesperson Conall McDevitt has also urged the Catholic Church to support the Murphy Inquiry into clerical child abuse being extended to Northern Ireland. The South Belfast MLA has also called on the Health Minister to formally acknowledge that the Executive has a duty to uphold the rights of survivors of abuse and seek redress on their behalf.

“Survivors across Ireland need to see action and resolve from the Catholic Church and much greater acknowledgement of the responsibilities the Northern Ireland Executive has to the survivors,” he said.

Mr McDevitt said they will continue to press the minister to deliver his paper to the Executive so survivors of clerical and institutional abuse can “rightly seek the justice and redress that they are entitled to”.

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