Mixed reaction to pope's letter


Irish victims of clerical child sexual abuse are deeply disappointed by Pope Benedict's letter of apology, a group representing survivors of abuse said today.

"While we welcome the pope's direction that the church leadership co-operate with the civil authorities in relation to sexual abuse...we feel the letter falls far short of addressing the concerns of the victims," said Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four.

Ms Lewis said the pope's letter focused too narrowly on lower-ranked Irish priests and neglected the responsibility of the Vatican in the scandal.

However, other groups including the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse organisation said the letter was decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency, which would restore the respect and goodwill of the Irish people toward the catholic church. Welcoming the letter, the groups said it represented a highly emotional and long overdue apology from the Pope.

"Pope Benedict has passed up a glorious opportunity to address the core issue in the clerical sexual abuse scandal: the deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children. The pope speaks on only of the failures in the Irish church, and neglects the role of the vatican. If the church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial," Ms Lewis said.

She said One in Four was “astounded” at the pope’s assertion that the roots of clerical abuse lie in the secularisation of Irish society, the falling off of religious doctrine and failures to adhere to common law.

Ms Lewis noted that the pope had accepted that victims were not listened to when they tried to bring their experiences of abuse to the attention of the church authorities. She said victims were hoping for an acknowledgement of the "scurrilous" ways in which they have been treated.

"The lack of an apology to them in this regard is hurtful in the extreme," she said. "It is time in Ireland for the State to accept that child protection is the responsibility of the civil authorities. The Government must now prioritise the safety of all Irish children".

Dublin abuse victim Marie Collins said the pope and Irish hierarchy "still see everything through the eyes" of canon law and church law. "That's what's disappointing about it."

Ms Collins said she would only have a meeting with the pope if there was two-way interaction and discussion. She said she would ask him what has canon law to do with Jesus Christ and the church Jesus founded. "I would ask why the church can't get back to the basic Christian message," she added.

Paddy Doyle, author of The God Squad, echoed Ms Collins's comments, saying there would be “no kowtowing or kissing rings if I meet the pope”. Mr Doyle said the pastoral letter was insufficient as the pope "hasn’t put his hands up and said guilty. He blamed everyone”.

The Irish Survivors of Child Abuse Organisation (Irish-SOCA) said the letter contained “an unambiguous acknowledgement that the Irish Catholic church sinned most grievously against the young over many decades”.

The group said it was heartened by Benedict's open acceptance that the abusive behaviour by priests constituted a criminal act and that those who abused children should submit themselves"to the demands of justice”.

The Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori) said it welcomed the pope’s statement to the victims of abuse and their families

Cori director general Sr Marianne O'Connor, said the pastoral letter "is an important part of the on-going process of confronting the mistakes of the past, encouraging healing and reconciliation and ensuring that the safeguarding of children is an absolute priority at all times”.

While there are many references to canon law in this letter to the Catholics of Ireland, there is also a welcome directive to bishops and religious superiors in addressing cases of child abuse continue to co-operate with the civil authorities, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said.