An extraordinary summit between Ireland’s bishops and Pope Benedict XVI is a first step towards repentance for the country’s clergy sex abuse scandal, the top Irish bishop said on Monday.
Armagh Archbishop Sean Brady, the primate of all Ireland, told Vatican Radio that the two days of meetings were part of a “journey of repentance, reconciliation and renewal” for the Irish Church. Clogher Bishop Joseph Duffy, said Sunday that resignations were not on the agenda.
Twenty-four Irish bishops will each speak with the pontiff about their views and knowledge of decades-long alleged sexual, psychological and physical abuse of minors by parish priests and by clergy in Catholic orphanages, workhouses, and other institutions.
The Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said in a homily during Mass before the summit’s opening that “trials that come from inside are of course the most difficult and humiliating,” but “every kind of trial can become a motive for purification and sanctification as long as one is illuminated by faith ... and as long as the sinner recognizes his sin.”
Last year, an investigation revealed that church leaders in Dublin had spent decades protecting child-abusing priests from the law while many fellow clerics turned a blind eye. A separate report in Ireland had been released months earlier documenting decades of sexual, physical and psychological abuse in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanages.
The revelations shocked the predominantly Catholic nation, and victims quickly demanded certain Irish bishops resign. Several have agreed, including two who stepped down on Christmas Day, but others have flatly refused.
Among the bishops at the summit will be Martin Drennan of Galway, who has insisted he did nothing to endanger children, and rebuffed calls that he stepped down.
In the Dublin report, investigators determined that a succession of archbishops and senior aides had compiled confidential files on more than 100 parish priests who had sexually abused children since 1940. The files had remained locked in the Dublin archbishop’s private vault.
The reports follow a campaign by the archbishop of Dublin and primate of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin, to confront abuse allegations and deal honestly with the cover-up and victims’ suffering. Archbishop Martin, who heads the Holy See’s office on justice, had welcomed the bishops’ resignations last year.
Bishop Drennan and the other summit participants will each have seven minutes to have their say before the Pope, who also will listen to the Irish prelates in group sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
Among the Holy See officials joining the summit is U.S. Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key Vatican office that reviews abuse claims against clergy worldwide. The Pope himself once held the office, when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Archbishop Duffy said the bishops’ discussions with Pope Benedict would be frank.
“It is my information that the Pope is very well clued in on this issue, that even before he became Pope he had access to the documentation, and that he knows exactly what was in the documentation, and that he wasn’t living in a fool’s paradise,” Archbishop Duffy said.
Pope Benedict has signalled he intends to purify the priesthood and, while still a cardinal, had denounced “filth” in the church as the abuse scandals exploded during the papacy of John Paul.
During pilgrimages to the U.S. and Australia Pope Benedict has met privately with sex abuse victims
In recent weeks, a new sexual abuse scandal involving clergy has erupted in the Catholic church in Benedict’s homeland, Germany.