Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Full inquiry into abuse still needed

The Pope’s response to the crisis facing the Catholic Church in Ireland over the decades of sexual abuse by priests and other religious figures can only be seen as inadequate.

His eight-page letter read out at many Masses yesterday was long on expressions of sorrow and remorse, but short in actual concrete proposals to help those who were so grievously abused.

Even the acknowledgement of what went wrong in the past — when the paedophilia of priests and others was covered up — was merely a statement of the blindingly obvious. The Church authorities, according to the Pope, had a misplaced concern for its reputation, and the avoidance of scandal. Failing to spell it out, in precise and simple terms, that the bishops covered up crimes was a serious omission.

Quite astonishingly, the Pope says that the remedy for the whole scandal was already in place, if only the bishops had applied canon law — the Church’s law — properly. Many feel that it was adherence to canon law, or at least the bishops’ interpretation of it, that was the root cause of the problem. The Catholic Church felt it could deal with the problem in-house, instead of taking the proper action when notified of a crime being committed and telling the police and social services in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The question now is how the institution can regain any of the respect that it previously had from the laity. The Pope’s call for more prayer and for spiritual renewal in the Church in Ireland may be sound, theologically — but it cuts little ice with either the victims and their relatives, or even the ordinary church-goer. They expected, and will continue to demand, that bishops who failed them in the past — no matter what post they then held — should be forced to resign.

The Pope has pledged to send Vatican officials to Ireland to some of the dioceses in an attempt |to see how the hierarchy are responding to the crisis. But what will those officials’ role be? Will it be merely to ensure that current best practice on child protection is enforced in every diocese? Or will they be able to force bishops or others to step down if they are found to have been guilty of inaction against abusing clergy in the past?

Perhaps the greatest omission in the pastoral letter is the acceptance of any responsibility by the Vatican for what happened in Ireland. Many people feel that the Vatican must have known of the the abuse scandal — given its scale and longevity — yet did little, if anything, to help the abused.

The demand for a full independent inquiry into clerical abuse is still valid and is the only response acceptable to a majority of lay people within the Church on this island.

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