Bishops meet Pope over child abuse scandals

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A Vatican meeting between Irish bishops and Pope Benedict XVI gets under way today with the past handling of child abuse scandals on the agenda.

The 24 senior clergymen will take part in the unprecedented two-day talks after being hauled before the pontiff in the wake of the sexual abuse revelations that rocked the Irish church.

On the eve of the meeting, survivors of clerical abuse demanded leadership and accountability from the Pope and called for financial compensation for victims.

Four bishops already resigned over the damning Murphy report, which unveiled a catalogue of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups over three decades by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin.

But Bishop Joseph Duffy, spokesman for the Irish Bishops Conference, said it wasn't their place to speak publicly about resignations.

"It's not our business as individual bishops to discuss publicly a resignation," he said.

"That's something that will happen or will not happen as a result of the overall discussion that will take place."

John Kelly, of the Survivors of Child Abuse group, said they wanted the Pope to restore honour to the country.

"The honour that was so severely damaged at home and abroad by the atrocities committed by the anti-Christ over the last 50 years," he said.

"To restore the true Church to Ireland."

A similar Vatican meeting took place in 2002 when US cardinals were invited to Rome by then Pope John Paul II to discuss abuse scandals involving the American church.

It came under fire for its handling of a series of abuse allegations as well as covering up misconduct and moving alleged abusers from job to job.

Meetings will be held in the Vatican throughout the day and tomorrow morning, with the Pope and up to seven of his senior Cardinals and aides due to attend.

All-Ireland Primate Cardinal Sean Brady will open the summit with a presentation, before each bishop is given seven minutes to speak.

Michael O'Brien, a former Fianna Fail politician and abuse survivor, said the Pope should apologise to the people of Ireland.

"We want the Pope to make a proper apology to Ireland, for what happened in Ireland," he said.

"We don't want a bland apology, we want an apology to those of us in Ireland who were abused and to the people of Ireland who are 100% behind us on this.

"This is not an Irish problem. This is a Catholic Church worldwide problem. Religious orders, world wide problem."

Pope Benedict also promised a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics over the abuse scandals, but it is not known when this will be published.

Auxiliary Bishops of Dublin Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field bowed to weeks of intense pressure and announced at Christmas Eve services that they were quitting their posts over the Murphy inquiry's findings.

They were the latest senior clerics to stand down after Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin James Moriarty and Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray also resigned.

Current Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan, also named in the Murphy report, repeatedly faced down calls for his resignation.

Abuse survivors met Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on Saturday to insist he convey the distress of families to the Pope and that the pontiff accept the resignations of Bishops Moriarty, Walsh and Field.

They also called on Pope Benedict to remove Bishop Drennan from office immediately and other bishops who failed to challenge the culture of cover-up.

Bishop Murray will not attend the summit nor will Bishop of Cloyne John Magee who stood aside last March over his mishandling of abuse allegations in his diocese.

Bishop Moriarty will attend as his resignation has not yet been accepted by the Vatican.

Auxiliary Bishops Walsh and Bishop Field will not be going as only diocesan bishops were invited.

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