Pope urges Irish bishops to show courage

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

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, Lombardi said “it was not addressed.” Lombardi also defended the pope’s representative in Ireland for refusing to testify to lawmakers there about systematic covers-up 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 today before they head back to Ireland before Ash Wednesday church services.

During the two-day summit behind closed doors at the Vatican, anger flared in Ireland over the refusal of papal envoy Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza to appear in the Irish parliament. Leanza, who participated in the summit, told lawmakers in a letter published yesterday 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.

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.

Lombardi said 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 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.” 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 cou-rage,” said a Vatican statement.

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