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VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI concluded an unprecedented two-day crisis management session with Ireland’s Catholic bishops on Tuesday (Feb. 16), denouncing the sexual abuse of children as “not only a heinous crime but also a grave sin.”
Benedict and senior Vatican cardinals met Monday and Tuesday with all 24 serving Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse of minors detailed in two Irish government-sponsored reports released last year.
According to a Vatican statement, the pope urged the bishops to identify “concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused … and restoring the church’s spiritual and moral credibility.”
Over the two-day summit, all of the bishops made brief statements to the pope and responded to a draft pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, which would be Benedict’s first major papal document devoted to clerical sex abuse. The Vatican says the letter from Benedict will be released before Easter.
In a homily given in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday (Feb. 15), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State and the church’s No. 2 official, deplored “particularly abhorrent acts” by some Irish priests.
Benedict gave no public response to a request from Irish sex abuse victims, which was hand-delivered by the visiting bishops, for a meeting with the pope. But at a Vatican press conference on Tuesday, Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns said that he was “sure (Benedict) will be willing to meet victims in Ireland when the time is right.”
The press conference offered the Irish bishops a prominent platform for voicing strong regrets.
“There have been failures of course in our leadership,” said Cardinal Sean B. Brady, who as archbishop of Armagh is the highest-ranking Irish prelate. “The only way we will regain that credibility will be through our humiliation. … Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, it is a time of penance, and we must begin with ourselves, (with) whatever the equivalent of sackcloth and ashes is today, (to) do a real penance and have a change of heart.”
Added Brennan, “We all know that there’s great anger out there, and it’s richly deserved. We are determined to regain the trust of the Irish people, but we know it won’t be quick or easy.”
Four present or former auxiliary bishops of Dublin have offered to resign after last November’s Murphy Commission Report, which uncovered a three-decade pattern of abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
So far, Benedict has accepted only one resignation, of Donal B. Murray of Limerick.
Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway and Kilmacduagh, who was also criticized in the Murphy Commission Report, has publicly refused to resign, insisting that he is guilty of no wrongdoing.
Another Irish bishop, John Magee of Cloyne, stepped down indefinitely from active duty in March 2009, pending the conclusion of an inquiry into sex abuse in his diocese.
Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, the Vatican’s ambassador to Dublin, was also criticized in the Murphy Commission Report for failing to cooperate in the commission’s inquiry. Irish lawmakers complained this week about his refusal to testify before a parliamentary commission.
Brady said Tuesday that Vatican ambassadors do not, as a rule, appear before parliamentary commissions, but noted that Leanza has discussed clerical sex abuse with Ireland’s department of foreign affairs.
The pope’s decision to call the Irish entire bishops’ conference to address the matter was unprecedented.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II met with all American cardinals and leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference at the Vatican to discuss sex abuse in the U.S. church. During his visit to Washington in 2008, Benedict told U.S. bishops that the scandal had “sometimes been badly handled,” and held a surprise 30-minute session with abuse survivors at the Vatican embassy.
But according to an experienced observer, this week’s event reflects an increased sense of urgency on the Vatican’s part.
“The Holy See is much more on top of the whole phenomenon this time around,” said Paddy Agnew, Rome correspondent for the Irish Times. “The Americans had to appeal to Rome for a meeting; this time it was the Irish who were summoned.”
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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