The Pope on Saturday intervened to defuse mounting anger over the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Irish Catholic church by offering an unqualified apology to the victims and admitting that “serious mistakes'' were made in the way the church responded to the crisis. But victims groups said they were disappointed that he did not acknowledge any responsibility of the Vatican in the systematic abuse of children over a period of more than 30 years. The Pope said the scandal had brought “shame'' to the church and done “great damage'' to the “public perception of the priesthood and religious life''. “I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow,'' he told church leaders in a strongly-worded pastoral letter which the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, hoped would contribute to the “healing process''

Apologising to the victims, the Pope said: “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated... I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”

The Pope's unprecedented intervention, in which he also made an indirect reference to attempts to cover-up the scandal, increased pressure on Cardinal Sean Brady, the Irish primate, to resign over his role in protecting a convicted paedophile priest.

The Pope said there had been “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal”. Those who were guilty must “answer before God and properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed”. He also questioned the procedures for selecting priests and said “insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates” contributed to the crisis. “Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing,” he said.

The Pope said the priests who were guilty of abusing children had “betrayed'' the trust of “innocent young people and their parents''.

“You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres,'' he said as the Catholic Church across Europe continued to reel from the effect of revelations of widespread child abuse.

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