VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A top Vatican official on Monday told Irish bishops in Rome for talks with Pope Benedict on the Irish Church’s vast pedophilia scandal that clergy who had sinned must admit blame for “abominable acts.”
The message came in the sermon of a mass in St Peter’s Basilica shortly before the bishops started two days of crisis talks with the pope to formulate a response to the revelations of abuse by clergy that have shaken devoutly Catholic Ireland.
“Yes, storms spark fear, even those that rock the boat of the church because of the sins of its members,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, number two in the Vatican hierarchy, told the bishops.
Bertone said trials within the church “are naturally harder and more humiliating” particularly when “men of the church were involved in such particularly abominable acts.”
The meetings, the first of their kind at the Vatican in eight years, will discuss a plan of action and could lead to more prelates resigning in a shakeup of the Irish church hierarchy. Four have already quit.
Benedict, the 24 Irish bishops and top Vatican officials will hold three sessions in response to outrage in Ireland over the Murphy Commission Report, a damning indictment of child sex abuse by priests.
Bertone said God’s mercy could “pull one out of the deepest abyss” but “only if the sinner recognizes his blame in full truth.”
The report, published in November, 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.”
It said all Dublin bishops 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.
Four bishops have offered their resignations and the pope has so far accepted one. Victims’ group One in Four called on other bishops throughout Ireland who had engaged in a “culture of cover-up” to step down.
The bishops handed the pope a letter from another victims’ group, the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, which asked him to investigate how Christ’s teaching had been “so flagrantly abrogated over many decades.”
It urged him to help bring perpetrators of abuse or its cover-up to civil justice and to set up a commission “to examine all aspects of the historical misconduct” of Irish religious orders and priests who betrayed their sacred vows.
Victims’ groups said they would seek monetary compensation, which could lead to a financial crisis for the Irish Church.
In the U.S. Church, hit by a similar scandal in 2002, seven dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of thousands of sex abuse claims against priests.
The Vatican said in December the pope would write to the Irish people about the crisis — the first time a pontiff will have devoted a document solely to clergy’s abuse of children.
The pope has strongly condemned such abuse during his trips to two countries hard hit by scandals — the United States and Australia. In December, he expressed his “outrage, betrayal and shame” over the Irish case.
But critics say the Vatican and the church have not gone far enough in handing over suspected abusers to civil justice.
The current archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who took over after the period covered by the report, said he expected “a very significant reorganization” of the Irish church.
The church’s prominent role in Irish life was one of the reasons abuses 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.
Writing by Philip Pullella; additional reporting by Andras Gergely in Dublin; editing by Andrew Roche