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As apology is read, Pope’s homeland is named and shamed

Ireland's Catholics listened to the Pope's apology for the conduct of the Church throughout a long-running paedophilia scandal at Mass yesterday.

But any hope the extraordinary gesture would draw a line under abuse claims was dashed when a senior German cleric was the first to admit the church in the Pope's native Germany had “hidden for years” assaults by priests on young children.

Robert Zollitsch, archbishop of Freiburg, told a German newspaper that the “assaults that took place in such numbers within our institutions shame and frighten me”. His remarks came even as senior Vatican figures claimed that Pope Benedict's pastoral letter on the Irish abuse cases was the last word on the scandal.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, wrote in the Italian Bishops' Conference newspaper L'Avvenire, yesterday “with this letter, we have decisively turned the page; nothing left unsaid, no excuses”.

Archbishop Zollitsch had already apologised for a 20-year-old cover-up of sexual abuse that took place when he was in charge of human resources in the diocese of Freiburg. Some critics claimed the Pontiff had not accepted that Vatican policies of keeping abuse secret were in large part to blame.

German newspaper Der Spiegel claimed to have seen new documents confirming that, as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1980, then-Cardinal Ratzinger knew of priest Peter Hullermann's paedophile tendencies when he was accepted into the diocese.

Pope Benedict, in his first public address since the publication of the pastoral letter, made no direct mention of the paedophile scandal as he addressed pilgrims in St Peter's Square yesterday. He made only oblique references, calling on the faithful to be “unforgiving of the sin, but merciful to the person”. He then quoted “he who is without sin to cast the first stone”.

In the pastoral letter the Irish faithful heard at Mass yesterday, the Pope said Irish bishops had made grave errors of judgment during the scandal. One support group, Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, welcomed the overall tenor of the message. “It would appear the message overall is one of sincerity to bring about change in the church,” a spokesman said.

Not all were so positive. “They still don't see this isn't just about individual cases, but about an overall structural problem,” said Christian Weisner of German lay group We Are Church. “The letter is not a big breakthrough.”

EDITED EXTRACTS FROM POPE’S LETTER

Dear brothers and sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, 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.

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 dealt with them.

To the victims of abuse and their families:

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. 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.

It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope.

To priests and religious who have abused children:

You betrayed thDear brothers and sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, 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.

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 dealt with them.

To the victims of abuse and their families:

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dDear brothers and sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, 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.

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 dealt with them.

To the victims of abuse and their families:

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. 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.

It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope.

To priests and religious who have abused children:

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow, openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy.

They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth. It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. It must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.

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