VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI may issue a mea culpa for the church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse cases when he attends a meeting of the world’s clergy in June, the Vatican official in charge of handling abuse cases said.
Cardinal William Levada also said he intended to hold up the U.S. policy dealing with abuse as a model for bishops worldwide.
Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made the comments in an interview broadcast late Tuesday on PBS.
“It’s a big crisis. I think no one should try to diminish that,” Levada said. He acknowledged that the Vatican was caught by surprise, even though it was well aware of the scope of the U.S. and Irish crises, and blamed “a certain media bias” for keeping the story alive.
As the scandal has raged around the Vatican, Benedict has come under increasing pressure to admit some form of higher responsibility on the part of the Vatican for fomenting a culture of secrecy that allowed abuse to fester unchecked for decades.
Benedict has expressed his sorrow and shame for the abuse, he has wept with victims and promised new measures to protect children and bring justice to pedophile priests. But he has admitted no personal or institutional responsibility, blaming instead the abusers themselves and their bishops for mishandling cases when they arose.
Italian news reports this week suggested Benedict would use the meeting of the world’s priests June 9 to 11 at the Vatican to issue some form of apology.
The meeting, initially called to mark the end of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest, now appears will also be a forum for Benedict to apologize for priests’ abuses. Asked about the reports that a papal apology would be issued, Levada said: “Whether he is going to do that or not we’ll have to wait and see, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”
The U.S. policy for with dealing with abuse bars credibly accused priests from any public church work while claims against them are under investigation. Clergy found guilty are permanently barred from public ministry and, in some cases, ousted from the priesthood.
The U.S. policy does not specifically order all bishops to notify civil authorities when claims are made. Instead it instructs bishops to comply with state laws for reporting abuse, and to cooperate with authorities.
All dioceses were also instructed to advise victims of their right to contact authorities themselves.