- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI urged Irish clergy to be courageous in confronting the pedophile priest scandal that has rocked the church, but he took no action on victims’ demands that he force bishops to resign, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The Vatican statement came as the pope and 24 Irish bishops ended an extraordinary meeting on the crisis meant to restore the trust of Irish Catholics shaken by revelations of decades of clergy sex abuse and cover-up.

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said following the summit that the pope “shares the outrage” over the abuse and noted he had “already expressed profound regret.”

Asked if the issue of resignations came up, Father Lombardi said that “it was not addressed.”

Father Lombardi also defended the pope’s representative in Ireland for refusing to testify to lawmakers there about systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy.

A Vatican statement said the pope called the sexual abuse of children “a heinous crime” and a “grave sin which offends God.”

Irish bishops scheduled a news conference for later Tuesday before they head back to Ireland for Ash Wednesday church services.

During the two-day summit behind closed doors at the Vatican, anger flared in Ireland over the refusal of Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, the papal envoy, to appear in the Irish Parliament.

Archbishop Leanza, who participated in the summit, told lawmakers in a letter published Monday he would not answer questions from the foreign affairs committee.

“I wish to inform that it is not the practice of the Holy See that apostolic nuncios appear before parliamentary commissions,” he wrote in the letter dated Feb. 12.

Archbishop Leanza has faced heavy criticism in Ireland for ignoring letters from two state-ordered investigations into how the church suppressed reports of child abuse by parish priests and in Catholic-run residences for poor children.

Father Lombardi said Archbishop Leanza, as a diplomat, “has to respond to rules” about diplomatic privilege. “If this is not part of his duty, you can’t expect him” to testify, the Vatican spokesman told an improvised news conference minutes after the summit ended.

Irish lawmaker Alan Shatter expressed dismay over Archbishop Leanza’s refusal, saying that “it is acknowledged in Rome that members of the clergy in Ireland are guilty of abominable sexual abuse of children.”

Father Lombardi said the pope would send Irish faithful a letter about the crisis sometime during Lent. That liturgical period of penitence begins on Wednesday with the tradition of distributing ashes to the faithful and ends this year on April 4, Easter Sunday.

“While realizing 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,” said a Vatican statement read to journalists by Father Lombardi.

Victims already had warned the talks would be a failure unless the pope demanded resignations of bishops who had any role in concealing wrongdoing.

They also demanded that the pope accept in full the findings of the Irish investigations, which some church officials in Ireland have criticized as unfair.

In their meeting with Benedict, “the bishops spoke frankly of their sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused,” the Vatican statement said.

Father Lombardi indicated there was no mention of any plans for Benedict to meet with Irish victims.

The summit was “only a step in long process” in healing, Father Lombardi said.

Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Ireland contributed to this report.

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