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VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI expressed solidarity with victims abused by clergy in Ireland in a meeting with the country’s top churchmen Friday, following a report detailing decades of rapes, humiliation and beatings at church-run reform schools, the Vatican said.
Benedict held a long meeting with Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who briefed the pope on the report, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Lombardi gave no details of the talks but said Benedict expressed his “closeness” to the victims and assured his prayers for the church in Ireland.
The Irish government-funded independent report last month detailed “endemic” molestation and rape at church-run boys’ facilities and ritualized beatings at girls’ schools from the 1930s to the 1990s.
The 2,600-page report – which took nine years to compile and was resisted by Roman Catholic religious orders that ran the facilities – concluded that church officials shielded pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy.
It was the latest damning report about the generations of abuse young people suffered
at the hands of religious men and women in church or at church-run schools and facilities around the world.
American dioceses have paid more than $2.6 billion in abuse-related costs since 1950.
The Catholic Church in Canada has paid $79 million to native Canadians who were physically and sexually abused at church-run boarding schools they were forced to attend.
Benedict has met with American, Canadian and Australian victims. He has apologized for their anguish, prayed for their healing and denounced the “filth” in the priesthood that permitted such abuse.
In 2006, Benedict told Irish bishops that the Catholic Church must urgently rebuild trust damaged by clerical sex abuse. He urged them to establish the truth of what happened in the past, prevent it from recurring, ensure justice is respected and bring healing to the victims.
On Thursday, the 18 religious orders implicated in the Irish report bowed to government pressure and pledged to allow external audits of their finances and to establish an entirely new compensation fund for the 14,000 victims.
The groups, however, did not commit to any specific new financial figure.
Victims’ advocates claim the orders have been using sophisticated financial shell games to hide their true net worth. They say church groups should foot half of the compensation bill, which now exceeds euro1.1 billion ($1.5 billion).
In 2002, when the congregations were denying the scale of the child abuse and the investigation was just beginning, the orders negotiated a controversial deal with the government that capped the church’s contribution to victims at euro128 million ($180 million). In exchange, the government established a compensation system that required victims to surrender their rights to sue the church and state in exchange for payouts averaging euro65,000.
After claims flooded in from Ireland and around the world, the estimated total bill to taxpayers ballooned to euro1.1 billion ($1.5 billion).
Church leaders admit they haven’t even reached their euro128 million commitment – despite owning a property portfolio of schools, hospitals and other assets worth more than euro500 million.
The Irish Bishops’ Conference said Brady was in Rome to brief the Vatican on the impact of the report on the Irish church. Martin joined him after attending previously scheduled meetings on other issues.
Associated Press – June 5, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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