DUBLIN — Pope Benedict XVI’s unprecedented letter to Ireland apologizing for child abuse within the Catholic Church failed Saturday to calm the anger of many victims, who accused the Vatican of ducking its own responsibility in promoting a culture of cover-up.
Benedict’s message — the product of weeks of consultation with Irish bishops, who read it aloud at Masses across this predominantly Catholic nation — rebuked Ireland’s church leaders for “grave errors of judgment” in failing to observe the church’s canon laws.
The pope, who himself stands accused of approving the transfer of an accused priest for treatment rather than informing German police during his 1977-82 term as Munich archbishop, suggested that child-abusing priests could have been expelled quickly had Irish bishops applied the church’s own laws correctly. He pledged a church inspection of unspecified dioceses and orders in Ireland to ensure their child-protection policies were effective.
He also appealed to priests still harboring sins of child molestation to confess. “Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy,” he wrote.
But Benedict offered no endorsement of official Irish investigations that found the church leadership to blame for the scale and longevity of abuse heaped on Irish children throughout the 20th century.
The Vatican refused to cooperate with those 2001-09 probes into the Dublin Archdiocese, the rural Ferns diocese and Ireland’s defunct network of workhouse-style dormitory schools for the Irish poor.
The investigations, directed by senior Irish judges and lawyers, ruled that Catholic leaders protected the church’s reputation from scandal at the expense of children — and began passing their first abuse reports to police in 1996 only after victims began to sue the church.
Nor did Benedict’s letter mention recent revelations of abuse cover-ups in a growing list of European nations, particularly his German homeland, where more than 300 claimants this year have alleged abuse in Catholic schools and a choir long run by the pope’s brother.
While a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope, wrote a 2001 letter instructing bishops worldwide to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep church investigations secret under threat of excommunication.