Child abuse crisis to spark Irish Church shake-up

VATICAN CITY Fri Dec 11, 2009 2:48pm EST

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leads his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican December 9, 2009. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leads his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican December 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict expressed "outrage, betrayal and shame" on Friday at the sexual abuse of children by priests in Ireland, which Church leaders said would lead to a shake-up of the Irish Roman Catholic Church.

Church sources expected some bishops to resign in the wake of a government report that said Church leaders in overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland had covered up widespread abuse of children by priests for 30 years.

"I think that we are looking at a very significant reorganization of the Church in Ireland," Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said after he and other Irish Church leaders held an emergency meeting with the Pope.

The Vatican said the pope would write to the Irish people about the crisis and a plan for action -- the first time a pope will devote a document solely to the clergy's abuse of children.

"The Holy Father shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland, and he is united with them in prayer at this difficult time in the life of the Church," a Vatican statement said.

Ireland has been in a state of shock since the publication of the Murphy Commission Report two weeks ago.

The paper said the Church had "obsessively" hidden child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, and operated a policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

A number of bishops who worked in Dublin during the period covered by the report are likely to offer to resign, Church sources said.

The Vatican statement alluded to this, saying the Vatican would look into "questions concerning the governance of local Church leaders with ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children."

"PROFOUND REGRET"

It said the report "deeply disturbed and distressed" the pope, who expressed "his profound regret at the actions of some members of the clergy who have betrayed their solemn promises to God, as well as the trust placed in them by the victims and their families, and by society at large."

Martin said: "I really think we need renewal."

He said that, beyond "working very hard on the question of child protection," the Irish Church must renew parish life and get more lay people involved in Church organization.

The report said all Dublin archbishops in charge during the period under study had been aware of some complaints, but the archdiocese had been more preoccupied with protecting the reputation of the Church than safeguarding children's welfare.

One Irish child abuse victim, Marie Collins, complained that the Vatican statement did not go far enough to address the issue of a cover-up.

"Any normal person would have expected today, after all this time, a statement about some actions that are going to be taken. Instead of that, we got more words. Nothing along the lines of people taking responsibility, anyone being accountable," she told RTE television.

The Church's prominent role in Irish life was one of the reasons why abuses by a minority of priests were allowed to go unchecked, the report said.

One priest admitted abusing more than 100 children. Another said he had abused children every two weeks for over 25 years.

The Murphy Report came six months after the release of a similarly damning and even more graphic report about floggings, slave labor and gang rape in Ireland's now defunct Church-run industrial and reform schools in the 20th century.

That report also accused state officials and police of abetting a cover-up, further eroding the moral authority of an institution that dominated Irish life for centuries.

(Additional reporting by Andras Gergely and Antonella Ciancio in Dublin; editing by Tim Pearce)

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