Pope Meets With Irish Bishops on Abuse Scandal

Feb 16th, 2010 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Pope Meets With Irish Bishops on Abuse Scandal


Pope Benedict XVI plans to hold a two-day summit with bishops from Ireland to discuss the Catholic child sexual abuse scandal.

(Feb. 15) — As the increasingly vocal survivors of Ireland’s Catholic sexual abuse scandal wait for answers and apologies, Pope Benedict XVI began an unprecedented two-day summit with Ireland’s bishops at the Vatican today. The Pope’s direct involvement marks a milestone in a crisis that has deeply marred the Catholic Church’s image in what was once one of its most devoted countries.

The meeting comes a little more than two months after the release of a devastating investigation, known as the Murphy Report, revealing the scope of child abuse by priests in the diocese of Dublin. Like previous reports on other parts of the church in Ireland, it laid out how for decades the Catholic hierarchy appeared primarily concerned with covering up the crimes of its priests.

The Irish bishops, who formally apologized to Ireland in December, will reportedly be allowed seven minutes each to speak and may be questioned by the pope and senior curial officials. Twenty-four bishops went up, one-by-one, to see the pontiff as the summit began, according to published reports.

Benedict has promised to write a pastoral letter to the people of Ireland about the damage done by the sex abuse and will reportedly outline several initiatives, including public services of repentance for Irish bishops and priests. The summit talks are meant in part to provide the pope with guidance in formulating that text.

But there is no guarantee any written response will be enough for the Irish people who feel betrayed by the church.”I have a feeling the pope will just disappoint us again,” saidAndrew Madden, who became the first victim to go public in 1995 with the revelation that church officials paid him off to stay silent after he told them the family priest had abused him for three years. “I’m not confident about much coming out of it. Every time you engage with the Vatican you hold out hope they’ll react in a way that’s real and human and connected and they never do.”

What happened in Ireland goes beyond the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. in part because the church is so entrenched in the economy of the country. The Catholic church, for example, runs 92 percent of the state-owned primary schools and owns some of the country’s biggest hospitals.

“A lot of people in Ireland are so shocked and angry,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, a Dublin-based support and advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse.

“In a way the worst part is finding out how much was known about these abusive priests and how much was covered up. The most heartbreaking calls we get are from victims who realize that if the church had acted sooner, they wouldn’t have been abused.”

Some of the Irish bishops at the Vatican summit were identified in the reports as participating in the cover-ups and will be resigning. Some of the victims have made sure their presence will be felt as well during the talks.

A letter, signed by two of Ireland’s most prominent abuse victims and sent directly to the Vatican in time for the summit, chides the pope for not cooperating with the most recent investigating commission. It asks that he write to the people of Ireland “accepting fully the harm” caused by the culture of priestly abuse and cover-up in Ireland.

The Murphy report examined the cases of more than 320 victims of priestly abuse in the Dublin diocese from 1975 to 2004. Among its many findings was that one priest admitting molesting children more than 100 times. Another said he molested children at least once every two weeks for 25 years.

The report found that church officials routinely ignored complaints from children and their parents about abusive priests, concluding that all the Dublin diocese cared about was “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets.”

The findings came just seven months after the release of the Ryan report, the result of a harrowing nine-year investigation into the chronic beatings, rapes, near-starvation and humiliation of 30,000 children in state-run “industrial schools” and orphanages all run by the Catholic Church. Both reports detailed the cover-ups of the crimes by Irish church officials as well as the stonewalling and lack of cooperation on the part of everyone from the Christian Brothers to the Vatican.

The Murphy report specifically said that Vatican officials refused to deal directly with investigators, saying they had not gone through proper diplomatic channels.

Benedict XVI issued a strongly-worded statement in December after the release of the Murphy report, saying he “shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland.” But many survivors of the abuse in Ireland believe the Vatican knew more about pedophiliac priests in Ireland and elsewhere over the years. They want the Pope to accept more public responsibility.

Some point to two Vatican documents that outline how clerical sexual abuse should be handled as characteristic of the culture of secrecy surrounding paedophiliac priests. The document titled crimen sollicitationis was issued in 1962 and revised in a different form in 2001 as Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela. Both were written entirely in Latin.

Filmmaker Colm O’Gorman, who said he was raped by a priest in County Wexford when he was 14, addressed the subject in his 2006 documentary, “Sex Crimes and the Vatican.”

Since Madden’s revelations, Ireland has been increasingly conscious of clerical sexual abuse over the past 15 years. Awareness was heightened the same year when the infamous Father Brendan Smyth was finally arrested at age 67 after about 40 years of abusing children in Ireland and the U.S., despite his behavior being known to higher-ups.

“Catholic priests have been the country’s aristocracy since the 1850s,” says Patsy McGarry, the religion writer for the Irish Times who is considered one of the experts on the sex abuse scandals. “It’s hard for those outside Ireland to understand the kind of power they’ve had.”

But that power is waning. Ireland is 86.7 percent Roman Catholic but regular Mass attendance dropped from 90 percent in 1973 to 43 percent.

Andrew Madden said he always wanted to be a priest, even after being molested for three years by Fr. Ivan Payne. After he was turned down by church officials — because, he believes, he’d gone public about Payne — he went through years of depression and alcoholism.

Now 45, Madden works in information technology and decided to formally leave the Catholic church, a process called “defecting.” He used the resources of a Web site run by a group called “Count Me Out,” formed in reaction to the Ryan report to help people make a “clean break” from the church.

“I’m still a spiritual person,” Madden said. “But my higher power is no longer the Catholic Church.”

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