Pope promises action against clerical sex abuse

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of a general audience he held in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 21, 2010.
AP Photo

Pope Benedict XVI promised Wednesday that the Catholic Church would take action to confront the clerical sex abuse scandal, making his first public comments on the crisis days after meeting with victims.

During his weekly public audience in St. Peter's Square, Benedict recounted his tearful weekend encounter in Malta with eight men who say they were abused as children by priests in a church-run orphanage.

"I shared with them their suffering, and emotionally prayed with them, assuring them of church action," Benedict said.

At the time of the private meeting Sunday, the Vatican issued a statement saying Benedict had told the men that the church would do everything in its power to bring justice to abusive priests and would implement "effective measures" to protect children.

Wednesday, the public heard the words from the pope himself.

Neither Benedict nor the Vatican has elaborated on what action or measures are being considered. Various national bishops conferences have over the years implemented norms for handling cases of priests who sexually abuse children, none more stringent than the zero-tolerance policy adopted by the United States.

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The U.S. norms, which are being held up as a model for others, bar credibly accused priests from any public church work while claims against them are under investigation. Diocesan review boards, comprised mostly of lay people, help bishops oversee cases. Clergy found guilty are permanently barred from public ministry and, in some cases, ousted from the priesthood.

Victims advocates have demanded the Vatican take stronger action and remove the bishops who shielded known abusers, shuffling them around from diocese to diocese rather than reporting them to police.

On Wednesday, two church officials in Dublin told The Associated Press that the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty, who admitted in December that he hadn't challenged the Dublin archdioceses' past practice of concealing child abuse complaints from police.

A formal announcement is expected from the Vatican on Thursday, the church officials told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Vatican also is expected to accept the December resignation offers of two auxiliary Dublin bishops, Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field, in coming weeks.

All three bishops were identified in an Irish government-ordered investigation published last year into decades of cover-ups of child-abusing clergy in the Dublin Archdiocese. The report found that all bishops until 1996 colluded to protect scores of pedophile priests from criminal prosecution.

Last week, the Vatican for the first time issued guidelines telling bishops they should report cases of abusive priests to police where civil laws require it. While the Vatican has insisted that was long its policy, it was never written explicitly and victims, lawyers, government-backed inquiries and grand juries have all accused the church of mounting a cover-up to keep clerical abuse secret and away from civil jurisdiction.

Benedict said in a homily last week that Christians must repent for sins and recognize their mistakes - comments widely interpreted as concerning the scandal. But his comments Wednesday marked his first public and direct remarks on the crisis since March 20, when he wrote a letter to the Irish faithful concerning the abuse crisis in that country.

In that letter, Benedict chastised Irish bishops for leadership failures and "gross errors of judgment" in handling abuse cases. But he laid no blame on the church hierarchy, whom critics blame for mandating a culture of secrecy that encouraged bishops to keep abuse quiet.

Three Irish government-ordered investigations published from 2005 to 2009 have documented how thousands of Irish children suffered rape, molestation and other abuse by priests in their parishes and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages. Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until 1996 after victims began to sue the church.

The reports have faulted Rome for sending confusing messages to the Irish church about norms to be followed and, in general, for what it called the absence of a coherent set of canon laws and rules to apply in cases of abuse.


Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this report from Dublin.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)