Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland said Saturday a pastoral letter from the pope expressing shame and remorse “falls far short” of addressing their concerns.
Irish Catholic clergy welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s letter, saying it paved the way for a “season of rebirth”, but campaigners said his response to a scandal that has rocked the Church in Ireland left many questions unanswered.
In the letter read out to congregations across Ireland, the pope said he was “truly sorry” for the suffering of the victims and admitted Irish bishops had made serious errors in their response to allegations of sexual abuse.
But one of the main campaign groups, One in Four, bemoaned the lack of an apology for the “scurrilous” way victims were dismissed or silenced when they tried to complain about their treatment to Church authorities.
Campaigners want apology to silenced victims
“The lack of an apology to them in this regard is hurtful in the extreme,” said executive director Maeve Lewis.
Highlighting concerns of a cover-up, the group said the pope had wasted “a glorious opportunity” to address “the deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children.”
“There is nothing in this letter to suggest that a new vision of leadership exists,” Lewis said.
John Kelly, of Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), who was sexually abused as a boy in the notorious Daingean Catholic care home, told AFP that while he welcomed aspects of the letter, it lacked “substance.”
The pope said priests and religious workers guilty of child abuse must answer for their crimes “before properly constituted tribunals”. Kelly asked if this meant giving themselves up to police.
“In short, the basic question is, are the victims likely to get justice as a result of what the pope has said?” he said.
Campaigner Christine Buckley, abused by nuns while attending the Goldenbridge Industrial School in Dublin, said the pope should have specifically apologised to the victims of institutional abuse in Ireland.
She and others like her were the “forgotten children”, she said.
Victims want abusers to answer
While she welcomed the pope’s indication that he would be willing to meet victims, she wanted the nun who inflicted the beatings to be present too.
“I want to meet with him in the flesh. I want my abuser there. I want him to hear in her presence what she did and how she almost destroyed my life,” she said.
Ireland has been rocked by three judicial reports in the past five years, the most recent late last year, revealing sexual abuse and cruelty by clerics and attempts by church authorities to silence the victims.
The head of the Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, voiced hope that the pope’s letter would herald a “season of rebirth”.
The cardinal is himself facing questions over his role in allegedly having covered up abuse.
Speaking in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, Brady said: “No one imagines that the present painful situation will be resolved quickly.
“Yet with perseverance, prayer and working together in unity, the Holy Father says we can be confident that the Church in Ireland will experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.”
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, whose archdioceses has been at the centre of many abuse allegations, appealed for Catholics to read the letter closely.
“With Pope Benedict, I appeal to each of you to read the letter and reflect on it,” Martin said in his homily at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin late Saturday.
“The Church tragically failed many of its children: it failed through abuse; it failed through not preventing abuse; it failed through covering up abuse.”
He added: “The Church is called to renew itself in turning back more closely to her founder Jesus Christ.”
The main opposition Fine Gael party condemned the “grotesque failure” by the state and the Church to protect Ireland’s children.
Separately, it called for school lands controlled by the Catholic Church to be handed back to the state.