Pope signs off on Irish letter


Pope Benedict XVI has today signed off on a pastoral letter to the Irish faithful addressing the question of clerical sex abuse.

The letter, which was signed off in the Apostolic Palace earlier today, will be presented to the world’s media in the Vatican tomorrow morning.

A Vatican senior spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, will brief journalists on a letter first announced last December when the pope met the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Sean Brady, and with the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin.

It is not known if, and to what extent, the current sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in the pope’s native Germany will impinge on a document which was originally intended exclusively for the Irish faithful.

It is, however, unlikely that the most recent revelations concerning the primate of the Irish church, Archbishop Brady, will much influence the document.

The letter will offer a Holy See reflection on a problem which in recent months has damaged the Catholic Church not only in Ireland, but also in Austria, Brazil, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Vatican commentators believe that much-discussed issues such as a radical reorganisation of Irish church structures and dioceses are unlikely to feature in the pastoral letter.

The pope's message will be watched closely by angry Catholics worldwide to see if he acknowledges only the abuse itself - or the decades of Vatican-approved cover-ups too.

Commentators and victims’ rights activists agree that, to begin mending the church’s battered image, the message to Ireland - his first pastoral letter on child abuse in the church - must break his silence on the pivotal role of the Catholic hierarchy in shielding paedophiles from prosecution = including under the pope’s own watch in Munich decades ago.

“Is it not time for Pope Benedict XVI himself to acknowledge his share of responsibility, instead of whining about a campaign against his person? No other person in the church has had to deal with so many cases of abuse crossing his desk,” said the Rev Hans Kung, a Swiss priest and dissident Catholic theologian.

“Honesty demands that Joseph Ratzinger himself, the man who for decades has been principally responsible for the worldwide cover-up, at last pronounce his own mea culpa,” Rev Kung said.

The pope, who served as archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, has yet to speak about hundreds of abuse cases surfacing in Germany, particularly in his former archdiocese, since January.

Additional reporting PA