PATSY MCGARRY Religious Affairs Correspondent in Rome
The Primate of All-Ireland Cardinal Seán Brady said this afternoon that were the remit of the Murphy Commission to be extended to other Catholic dioceses in Ireland, the Catholic Church “will co-operate fully with that inquiry.”
He pointed to the Church’s current co-operation with statutory bodies such as the HSE and the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, as they prepare audits on child protection, as an example of such co-operation.
He was speaking today at a press conference at the Vatican Radio centre in Rome following discussions between Pope Benedict, seven Curial Cardinals and 24 Irish bishops yesterday and this morning on the clerical child sex abuse crisis in Ireland.
Also in attendance at the press conference was the Bishop of Meath Michael Smith, the Bishop of Clogher Joseph Duffy, the Bishop of Ferns Dennis Brennan, and the Bishop of Achonry Bishop Brendan Kelly.
Cardinal Brady said the Pope had “given a strong message of encouragement” to the Irish bishops in dealing with an issue which “he recognized was not an Irish problem, not an Anglophone problem, not a Catholic Church problem.”
Acknowledging “the failures in our leadership” as bishops he said “we were not made to feel like scapegoats “ but were encouraged “by offers of help from the Curia, he said.
Bishop Brennan said that while “victims (of abuse) were central to all our discussions and remain a top priority,” no plans were made for such victims to meet the Pope. He was sure the Pope would do so “when the time is right. They (victims) will tell us that,” he said.
Cardinal Brady said there had been no discussions of the resignations of bishops. “That is a matter between the bishops (concerned) and the Holy See. It would not be appropriate for us to give opinions on the matter.”
He said the bishops had seen drafts of the Pope’s planned pastoral letter to the Irish people and made observations on it. He did not comment on its content.
As regards the papal nuncio’s decision not to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Bishop Smith indicated it was not appropriate, according to Vatican protocol, for him to do so.
Pope Benedict told the bishops during two days of crisis talks over a paedophilia scandal that sexual abuse of children by priests was a "heinous crime" that they must address with resolve, the Vatican said today.
The pope "observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image," the statement said.
"While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage," it said.
For their part, the bishops told the pope that they are committed to co-operating with civil authorities on paedophilia scandal, the Vatican added.
A statement from the Vatican said all present at today's meeting "recognised that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the Church's leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching".
The statement said the Irish bishops "spoke frankly of the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused. There was a similar sense of outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious in this regard.
"The bishops . . . stressed that, while there is no doubt that errors of judgement and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people."
The pope "observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image".
"While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage," the Vatican said.
The pope also expressed the hope the meeting would enable the bishops "to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the Church's spiritual and moral credibility".
The pontiff also noted "the more general crisis of faith affecting the Church," the statement said, adding Pope Benedict "also pointed to the more general crisis of faith affecting the Church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors".
The Vatican statement added the pontiff called for "a deeper theological reflection" on the issue, "and called for improved preparation for candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained.
The historic two-day meeting between the pope, his senior Curia officials and the bishops at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican concluded shortly after 12pm.
It was indicated yesterday that Pope Benedict’s promised pastoral letter to the Irish faithful, originally scheduled to be published before Lent but delayed because of this visit to Rome by the Irish bishops, may be released sooner than expected.
The meeting with the pope was preceded by a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, celebrated by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. In his homily Cardinal Bertone said that only “an authentic and sincere humility” could lead to a “true renewal” of the Irish Church.
Speaking directly to the Irish bishops, he said: “Trials for the church can come from within and from without. Both are painful but the ones that come from within are obviously harder to take and more humiliating. Such is the huge trial that your communities are currently undergoing, trials which see some men of the church involved in particularly execrable acts.”
It emerged last night that the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, has declined an invitation to appear before the joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs.
In a letter to its chairman, Dr Michael Woods, he said it was “not the practice of the Holy See that Apostolic Nuncios appear before Parliamentary Commissions”. Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter, a member of the committee, described the nuncio’s decision as “not only regrettable but incomprehensible”.