Pope Benedict XVI ordered an investigation into an Irish church.
Pope Benedict XVI rebuked Irish bishops Saturday for "grave errors of judgment" in handling clerical sex abuse and ordered an investigation into the Irish church but did not mention any Vatican responsibility.
In a letter to the Irish faithful read across Europe amid a growing, multination abuse scandal, the pope doled out no specific punishments to bishops blamed by victims, and Irish government-ordered investigations, for having covered up abuse of thousands of Irish children from the 1930s to the 1990s.
Ireland's main group of clerical-abuse victims, One in Four, said it was deeply disappointed by the letter because it failed to lay blame with the Vatican for what it called a "deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children."
"If the church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial," the group said.
The letter directly addressed only Ireland, but the Vatican said it could be read as applying to other countries. Hundreds of new allegations of abuse have recently come to light across Europe, including in the pope's native Germany, where he served as archbishop in a diocese where several victims have recently come forward. One priest suspected of molesting boys while the future pope was in charge was transferred to a job where he abused more children.
While a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger penned a letter instructing bishops around the world to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep them secret under threat of excommunication. Irish bishops have said the letter was widely understood to mean they shouldn't report the cases to police.
"You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry," Benedict said, addressing himself to Irish Catholics who suffered "sinful and criminal" abuse at the hands of priests, brothers and nuns and a botched response by their superiors.
"It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church," he said. "In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."
Benedict used his harshest words for the abusers themselves, saying they had betrayed the trust of the faithful, brought shame on the church and now must answer before God and civil authorities.
"Conceal nothing," he exhorted them. "Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy."
Benedict faulted their superiors, the Irish bishops, for having failed "sometimes grievously" to apply the church's own law which calls for harsh punishments for child abusers, including defrocking priests.
But he didn't rebuke them specifically for having failed to report cases of abuse to police, saying only that serious mistakes were made and that now they must prevent future abuse and "continue to cooperate with civil authorities."
"I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice," Benedict wrote.
"Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures of leadership occurred. And this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness."
While the letter doled out no punishment for the bishops, the pope did order a Vatican investigation into some dioceses, seminaries and religious orders. Such a move is undertaken only when Rome considers a local church unable to deal with a problem on its own. The Vatican ordered such an "apostolic visitation" into U.S. seminaries after the U.S. clerical sex abuse scandal exploded in 2002.