VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Bishops who will meet Pope Benedict over a pedophilia scandal that has shaken devoutly Catholic Ireland will acknowledge the “enormous injustice and cruelty” inflicted on the victims, a participant said Sunday.
The Monday and Tuesday meetings, the first of their kind at the Vatican in eight years, will discuss a plan for action and could lead to more prelates resigning in a shakeup in the Irish Church hierarchy. Four have already quit.
Benedict, 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 in the country.
“This is not just a cosmetic exercise,” one of the prelates, Bishop Joseph Duffy of Clogher, told a news conference at the Irish seminary in Rome Sunday.
The bishops would acknowledge “the failure on the part of all of us” to be vigilant against abuse and express their commitment to try to rectify “the enormous injustice and cruelty” that victims have suffered, he said.
The Vatican said in December that the pope will write to the Irish people about the crisis — the first time a pope will have devoted a document solely to the clergy’s abuse of children.
“We’re asking for Pope Benedict to restore the honor to Ireland which was so severely damaged by these scandals,” said John Kelly, founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse.
The report, published in November, said the Church in Ireland had “obsessively” hidden 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 of them. Victims group One in Four called on other bishops throughout Ireland who engaged in this “culture of cover up” to step down.
One in Four also complained that the Vatican and its ambassador to Ireland “saw fit to hide behind diplomatic protocols to avoid co-operating with the Murphy Commission.” The Vatican said the commission had “not gone through the appropriate diplomatic channels.”
Victims groups said they will seek monetary compensation, which could lead to a financial crisis for the Irish Church.
In the United States, hit by a priestly pedophilia scandal in 2002, seven dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of thousands of sex abuse claims against priests.
“Many who have suffered throughout their lives from the impact of sexual abuse by priests in childhood now realize ... that their pain and suffering could have been avoided if senior churchmen and the civil authorities had acted properly in response to complaints received from earlier victims,” one open letter to the pope said.
The pope has strongly condemned priestly sexual abuse during his trips to two countries hard hit by widespread scandals — the United States and Australia. In December, he expressed his “outrage, betrayal and shame” over the Irish scandal.
But critics say the Vatican and the Church had not gone far enough in handing over suspected abusers to civil justice.
The current archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who started his job after the period covered by the report, has said he expected “a very significant reorganization of the Church in Ireland” as a result of the scandal.
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.
Additional reporting by Andras Gergely in Dublin; Editing by Ralph Boulton