Pope brands child sex abuse 'a heinous crime'

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The Independent Online

Pope Benedict XVI today branded the sexual abuse of children and young people a heinous crime and a grave sin.

At the end of an unprecedented two-day Vatican summit with Irish Bishops, the Pontiff said the the clergy should face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

The 24 senior clergy were summonsed over the past mishandling of child abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic church in Ireland.

In a statement, the Vatican said: "For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image.

"While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

"He also expressed the hope that the present meeting would help to unify the Bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the Church's spiritual and moral credibility."

The diocesan bishops were hauled before Pope Benedict and his most senior aides in the wake of the sickening abuse revelations contained in the Ryan and Murphy reports.

The Vatican said the senior clergy spoke frankly of the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed by those who had been abused and the feeling of outrage reflected by the religious.

Rome also revealed the Bishops had an opportunity to examine and discuss a draft of the Pastoral Letter which the Pope has penned to the Catholics of Ireland.

"His Holiness will now complete his Letter, which will be issued during the coming season of Lent," the statement said.

Rome said the Holy Father also pointed to the more general crisis of faith affecting the Church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person, and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors.

"He stressed the need for a deeper theological reflection on the whole issue, and called for an improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained and professed," the statement continued.

Pope Benedict also asked the clergy that this Lent be set aside as a time for imploring an outpouring of God's mercy and the Holy Spirit's gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in Ireland.

The Bishops told Rome that while there is no doubt errors of judgment and omissions stood at the heart of the crisis in the Irish church, significant measures have been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people.

In May last year the sickening Ryan Report revealed the Catholic Church and Irish Government covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in state care.

The damning probe found a catalogue of disturbing and chronic sexual, physical and emotional torture inflicted on disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned youngsters by both religious and lay staff.

Six months later the shocking State-ordered Murphy Report unveiled a catalogue of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups over three decades by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin.

It detailed allegations against a sample 46 priests who served in Dublin between 1975 to 2004 and found several bishops, some still serving, mishandled complaints against priests.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, have repeatedly apologised to survivors of abuse and the people of Ireland for the subsequent cover up.

Four bishops - James Moriarty, Donal Murray, Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field - later bowed to public pressure and resigned.

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

Cardinal Brady and the Bishops will hold a press conference in Rome this afternoon.