US & World

Pope Rebukes Irish Bishops Over Abuse Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI scolded Irish bishops at the end of a two-day Vatican summit called to discuss the decades of clerics' sexual abuse of minors in Ireland. Despite his condemnation of the abuse, the pope did not address victims' demands for the resignations of some bishops.

Pope Benedict XVI scolded Irish bishops over their handling of decades of clerics' sexual abuse of minors at the end of an exceptional two-day meeting at the Vatican on Tuesday.

The pope also blamed the scandal on a weakening faith, but he did not address victims' demands that he force some bishops to resign.

In a written statement, the Vatican acknowledged that the Irish crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the church's leadership.

Benedict condemned the abuse of children as a heinous crime and challenged the bishops to address problems of the past with determination and resolve.

Victims Are 'Top Priority'

Each of 24 bishops was given five minutes to give his version of events. And as the Vatican statement pointed out, the bishops committed themselves to cooperation with Irish state authorities.

There was no discussion of resignations or of the victims' other demand — to be received by the pope at the Vatican.

"The victims were central to all our discussions in these days," Bishop Denis Brennan replied at a news conference when asked for his reaction to victims' anger that the summit was a failure. "And the victims remain our top priority."

The Vatican meeting came two months after the Murphy Commission Report, which investigated crimes by pedophile priests, said the church in Ireland had "obsessively concealed child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese from 1975 to 2004 and operated a policy of 'don’t ask, don't tell.' "

The Murphy Report came just seven months after another investigation revealed chronic beatings, rapes, near starvation and humiliation of 30,000 children in schools and orphanages — all run by the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Climate Of Secrecy

Irish clergy acknowledge their responsibility for seriously mismanaging the crisis.

Bishop Joseph Duffy said one problem was lack of communication among the bishops themselves. "We’re coming from a culture of secrecy and confidentiality, which, admittedly, was overemphasized in the past," Duffy said.

When asked whether this climate of secrecy had been encouraged by the Holy See, and whether the Vatican had some responsibility in the cover-ups, the bishops evaded the questions. On Sunday, meeting with reporters, Bishop Duffy had said he had knowledge that Pope Benedict was well informed on the entire Irish issue even before he became pope in 2005.

While the Irish bishops were meeting in the Vatican, anger flared at home over the refusal of the papal envoy to appear before an Irish parliamentary committee probing church cooperation with investigations into the abuse cover-up.

Cardinal Sean Brady said he raised the issue with top Vatican officials, but he was told that a papal nuncio, by practice, will not appear before a parliamentary committee.

In an open letter to the pope issued Tuesday, John Kelly, founder of the victims' group Survivors of Child Abuse, complained: "The secular powers in Ireland appear paralyzed to bring to civil justice some of those who carried out acts of horrific abuse as well as those who assisted by acts of omission or even outright collusion after the fact." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit