Pope Benedict XVI was preparing yesterday to issue a pastoral letter on the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Ireland, amid growing anger about similar affairs in other countries.
One Irish group representing victims of the abuse made it clear on Friday that they would accept nothing less than a full apology and confirmation that abuse had been covered up at the highest levels of the Church.
The pope announced the release of the letter on Wednesday, St Patrick’s Day, during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square. St Patrick is the patron saint of heavily Catholic Ireland.
“As you know, in recent months the Church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis,” he said, speaking in English.
“As a sign of my deep concern I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation,” he added. “I ask all of you to read it for yourselves, with an open heart and in a spirit of faith. My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal.”
Ireland has been shaken by three judicial reports in the past five years, the most recent late last year, revealing ill-treatment, abuse and cruelty by clerics and a cover-up of their activities by church authorities.
The One in Four group, which offers support to victims of sexual abuse, issued on Friday their version of the pastoral letter they wanted to see.
It wanted the pope to acknowledge that the Church had “pursued a deliberate policy of cover-up, protecting sex offenders in order to avoid scandal, with no regard for the safety of children.”
It also wanted an admission that the Church had silenced and punished priests and lay people who had tried to expose abuse.
And the group called for the resignation of senior members of the clergy.
Cardinal Sean Brady, the Catholic Church’s head in Ireland, has apologized “with all my heart” for attending meetings in 1975 where child victims of a notorious pedophile priest were sworn to secrecy.
He has so far refused to bow to pressure from victims’ groups to quit, but said on Wednesday that he would be reflecting carefully in the coming weeks.
There is growing anger in other countries over abuse scandals dating back decades, but which are only now coming to light.
For the pope, the controversy has hit close to home, with a series of revelations in his native Germany.
In the latest revelation there, a victim of sexual abuse has accused the head of the German Catholic Church of having covered up for a predator priest by failing to notify prosecutors.
In a report to go out tomorrow on SWR public television, the victim accuses Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of having protected a priest who preyed on at least 17 children during his days in a more junior position in Bavaria.
The pope himself has been caught up in the revelations, for as Archbishop of Munich Joseph Ratzinger in 1980, he approved the transfer of a suspected pedophile priest to his diocese to undergo therapy; the priest went on to abuse and was eventually convicted and jailed.
Some observers have given credit to Benedict for confronting the crisis, several times condemning pedophilia among clergymen and meeting abuse victims in Australia and the US.
But with priests recently implicated in child sex abuse scandals in Austria, Brazil, Italy and the Netherlands, the contents of the pope’s letter on the Irish affair is likely to be scrutinized by Catholics the world over.