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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI Demands Sex Abusers "Submit To Justice"

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Pope XVI Tells Sex Abusers "Submit to Justice"

Pope Benedict XVI told priests who have abused children to submit to the "demands of justice," according to a letter released Saturday.

The pontiff said a misplaced concern for the church's reputation and inadequate methods of choosing priests had contributed to decades of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. He ordered a Vatican investigation into elements of the Irish church to tackle the problem.

In an open letter written to Catholics in the Irish Republic, the pope said he was "deeply disturbed" by the flood of allegations in Ireland and told victims he was "truly sorry."

He acknowledged that victims had suffered "grievously" from "sinful and criminal" abuse at the hands of priests, brothers and nuns.

"It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church," he said. "In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."

The letter did not mention similar claims in the pope's native Germany.

The church has been accused of protecting priests in the past and the pope's comment about the "demands of justice" appeared to be a reference to court proceedings, NBC News reported.

Benedict laid out four reasons why abuse by priests had continued over the last four decades:

* a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church;
* inadequate procedures for choosing priests;
* insufficient training in seminaries;
* and a tendency to favor clergy.

There was no mention of any Vatican responsibility in the scandal and no specific punishments doled out for the bishops who have been blamed by victims and Irish government-ordered investigations for having covered up years of abuse.

The Vatican investigation will look into some diocese, seminaries and religious orders. Such a move is undertaken only when Rome considers a local church unable to deal with a problem on its own.

The Vatican ordered such an "apostolic visitation" into U.S. seminaries after the U.S. clerical sex abuse scandal exploded in 2002.

The results of the Irish investigation could lead to further action.

Victims 'disappointed'

However, an Irish group representing survivors of abuse expressed dismay at the pope's remarks.

"My first response was deep disappointment in the letter. We feel the letter falls far short of addressing the concerns of the victims," Maeve Lewis, executive director of victims group One in Four, told Reuters.

"There is nothing in this letter to suggest that any new vision of leadership in the Catholic church exists," Lewis added.

She said the pontiff had focused too narrowly on lower-ranked Irish priests without recognizing the responsibility of the Vatican.

The letter also did not call for the resignation of the head of the church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, which victims groups have demanded, Lewis added.

In a speech after celebrating Mass on Saturday in Armagh, Northern Ireland, Cardinal Brady: "I welcome this letter. It is evident from the Pastoral Letter that Pope Benedict is deeply dismayed by what he refers to as 'sinful and criminal acts and the way the Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.'"

Three Irish bishops have offered to step down. Benedict hasn't accepted the resignations. The pope said that while bishops committed errors in the past, the church's leadership had already begun to remedy past mistakes.

Benedict used his harshest words for the abusers themselves, saying they had betrayed the trust of the faithful, brought shame on the church and now must answer before God and civil authorities.

"Conceal nothing," he exhorted them. "Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy."

Benedict faulted their superiors, the Irish bishops, for having failed "sometimes grievously" to apply the church's own law which calls for harsh punishments for child abusers, including defrocking them.

He said Irish bishops had made "grave errors of judgement" in handling the allegations. But he didn't rebuke them specifically for having failed to report cases of abuse to police, saying only that serious mistakes were made and that now they must "continue to cooperate with civil authorities."

"I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice," Benedict wrote.

"Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. And this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness."

The letter said the Irish church had had "to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society."

The pope added there was a "tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel."

Vatican reforms had been "sometimes misinterpreted" and "there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations."

Asked why there were no punitive provisions contained in the letter, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that the letter was pastoral, not administrative or disciplinary in nature, and that any further measures concerning resignations would be taken by the competent Vatican offices.

Three Irish government-ordered investigations published from 2005 to 2009 have documented how thousands of Irish children suffered rape, molestation and other abuse by priests in their parishes and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages. Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until 1996 after victims began to sue the church.

But Benedict said it wasn't enough to argue that abuse is widespread in society at large. He said the Irish church must now address the problem that has occurred in the Irish Catholic community "and to do so with courage and determination."

The seven-page letter was divided into sections directed at particular groups: the victims, their parents, their abusers, the bishops and the Irish faithful as a whole. Addressing himself first to the victims, Benedict said he understood that nothing he could say could undo their pain. He equated their wounds with those of Christ, and said he hoped that they find the courage to find faith.

"Christ's own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope."

The letter concluded with a prayer for the faithful to meditate on as they work to try to rebuild the church.

"May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment, bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family."

Sources: MSNBC

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