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Pope's Irish child abuse letter fails to calm storm

By CNN Wire Staff
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Pope: 'I am truly sorry'
  • Group: Pope's letter shows no fundamental change in church's handling of crisis
  • Benedict says he is "truly sorry" for the abuse suffered by victims in Ireland
  • One victim welcomes the apology but says was long overdue
  • Irish report found that church authorities covered up child abuse by priests

Armagh, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Victims of child abuse by Catholic clergy in Ireland have dismissed a long-awaited letter by Pope Benedict XVI as not going far enough.

"The Pope's letter indicates no fundamental change in the church's handling of this crisis," campaign group said in a statement.

"The letter's underlying goal seems to have been to appease the outrage while keeping the church in control of its incriminating information," group leaders Terry McKiernan and Anne Barrett Doyle said Saturday, hours after the letter was published.

They said the pontiff had engaged in "extraordinary verbal gymnastics... to defend himself and the Vatican from the charge that they instructed bishops worldwide to conceal child sex crimes."

They said the "most glaring omission" in the pastoral letter was his his "failure to address new revelations that he himself failed as a manager of abusive clerics. He pointedly does not include himself in his criticism of church leaders."

Benedict said Saturday he was "truly sorry" for the abuse suffered by victims at the hands of Catholic priests in Ireland. The pope addressed the church abuse crisis that has rocked the Irish Catholic Church in an 18-page pastoral letter, which was made public Saturday.

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"I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious," the pope wrote. "I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way church authorities in Ireland have dealt with them."

The pope did not specifically mention Ireland in his weekly Angelus address in Rome on Sunday.

Abuse victim Colm O' Gorman said the pope had not tackled the problem head-on.

Benedict did not acknowledge "the central charge against the Vatican -- that is, of a deliberate, concerted cover-up that sought to protect the church, its authority and above all its money, instead of protecting children," he said Saturday.

John Kelly, another abuse victim, was more satisfied by the pastoral letter, calling it "a highly emotional and long overdue apology" and "an unambiguous acknowledgment that the Irish Catholic Church sinned most grievously against the young over many decades."

"We see today's pastoral letter as a first step on the road to healing for many who lost faith in their church," he said Saturday on behalf of Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA).

But he added that the group was seeking an "urgent meeting" with the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to discuss SOCA's demand for full-scale trials in the Vatican "to examine the historical misconduct of Catholic religious orders in Ireland as well as those priests who betrayed their most sacred vows."

The deeply Catholic country has been badly shaken by a government-backed report that found the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Catholic Church authorities in Ireland covered up child abuse by priests from 1975 to 2004. Child sexual abuse was widespread then, the report found.

Brady, who personally read the pope's letter to his congregation in Armagh Saturday, apologized this week for his role in the church's investigation of an abusive priest in 1975.

Brady's office said he investigated the priest, who was later convicted of dozens of counts of child abuse, and reported his findings to his superiors. But critics say Brady should not have remained silent about what he learned.

"No one imagines that this painful situation will be resolved swiftly," Benedict said in his letter.

Contributing factors to the crisis can include inadequate procedures for determining suitable priesthood candidates, insufficient moral and spiritual formation in seminaries, and "misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal," the pope said. He called for them to be addressed urgently.

Benedict then addressed the victims of abuse and their families, recognizing the tragedies they have been through.

"You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry," he said. "I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen."

According to Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, the pope started thinking about writing the letter last summer after the publication of the Ryan report -- one of three separate reports on sexual and physical abuse by Irish clergy that has come out since 2005.

The Ryan report, published in May 2009, investigated abuse in Catholic-run institutions primarily from 1936 to 1970. Many of the alleged abusers in the 2,600-page report were not priests, but nuns or Catholic lay people.

Benedict also announced an apostolic visitation of certain Irish dioceses, seminaries, and congregations. Such visitations are actually Vatican investigations; the church held one in the United States after the clerical sex scandal in 2002.

The letter is specific to Ireland and did not address similar scandals now coming to light in other European countries like Austria and Germany. Lombardi said the pope is aware of the situations in those countries, but did not think it was appropriate to address all of them in Saturday's letter.