Pope to address issue of clerical abuse during visit to Britain


POPE BENEDICT XVI will address the issue of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church during his state visit to Britain this week, according to his senior spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi.

In an interview with Belgian TV station RTL-TV1, Fr Lombardi said the pope had been greatly pained by the publication last week of the Adriaenssens report into child sex abuse in the Belgian church. Among other things, the report claims 13 people committed suicide as a result of abuse by Catholic clergy.

“The pope is greatly pained by the news coming out of Belgium . . . I imagine that, during the course of his forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom, he will talk about this problem, thus renewing his solidarity with the suffering of the victims and confirming his condemnation of the crimes committed . . . He feels much pain after publication of the report which once again reveals the immense suffering of the victims and gives us an even greater understanding of the seriousness of these crimes.”

The Vatican spokesman also said it was possible the pope might write a pastoral letter to the Belgian faithful, along the lines of that written to Irish Catholics last February.

Though the dimensions of the Catholic church’s child sex abuse problem in the British Catholic Church have been much less widespread than in countries such as Belgium, the US and Ireland, many observers argue that references to the problem would almost certainly have featured in the pope’s speeches this week, even without the latest painful revelations from the Belgian church.

Other issues likely to be raised are the north-south divide, racial integration, economic migration and the Northern Ireland peace process.

Further polemics were generated in relation to the Adriaenssens report yesterday when the spokesman for the Belgian Bishops Conference, Bishop Guy Harpigny, said the Belgian church was reluctant to issue a full apology since such an apology might open the door to compensation claims.

“If we say mea culpa, then we are morally responsible, legally responsible, and then people come wanting money . . . We are afraid. Who will ask [for money] – the victims, the court or someone else? That’s why we are so careful,” Bishop Harpigny said.

He admitted that a news conference by Belgian church leader Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard had been a “missed chance” for a mea culpa, adding that “maybe the church was too concerned with itself”.

Dan Keenanadds:The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is to attend a service in London alongside Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury on Friday but has turned down the offer of a face-to-face meeting with him.

Dr Norman Hamilton insisted yesterday he was not snubbing the pope by declining to attend a reception afterwards and to shake his hand. He said this was because of “troubling differences between us on how we deal with the past”.