- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2010

DUBLIN (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI’s unprecedented letter to Ireland apologizing for chronic 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 worldwide 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 secretive 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 three 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.

In the latest development, the leader of the German Bishops Conference apologized Saturday for failing to protect children adequately from a pedophile priest in the early 1990s in his diocese of Freiburg. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, who was in charge of human resources and staffing at the time, said he should have done more to investigate the priest, who was forced into retirement in 1991 and committed suicide four years later when fresh complaints arose.

Rights campaigners in Ireland and abroad forecast that more victims in more nations will keep coming forward and opening new fronts of criticism, because the pope’s promotion of secretive canon laws remains at the heart of an unsolved problem.

“We know this policy of secrecy was worldwide. The more that victims speak out, the more the scandals will spread,” said Marie Collins, who was repeatedly raped by a Dublin priest while aged 13 and hospitalized in 1960. Her attacker wasn’t removed from the priesthood and imprisoned until 1997.

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. The Vatican insists the secrecy rules serve only to protect the integrity of the church’s investigations, and should not be taken to mean the church should not tell police of their members’ crimes.

But victims’ advocates in Ireland and the United States said the pope again failed to make it clear whether the church considers the secular law a higher priority than canon law when seeking to stop a pedophile priest.

“The letter’s underlying goal seems to have been to appease the outrage while keeping the church in control of its incriminating information,” said Terry McKiernan, president of a Web-based pressure group, BishopAccountability.org, that chronicles Catholic abuse scandals worldwide.

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