REPORTING FROM ROME -– In a report summarizing the results of an internal investigation of Irish dioceses and seminaries, the Vatican on Tuesday acknowledged “with a great sense of pain and shame” that minors and young people had been abused by the very figures they trusted most.
The investigation, or Apostolic Visitation, was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI in response to the widespread sexual abuse of minors by priests in Ireland and subsequent coverup that had been detailed in at least two damning reports commissioned by the Irish government.
The Vatican said that in issuing the eight-page summary, “The Holy See re-echoes the sense of dismay and betrayal which the Holy Father expressed in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland regarding the sinful and criminal acts that were at the root of this particular crisis.”
In that March 2010 public letter, Benedict promised to root out the problem, which had been ignored by church authorities for decades. The investigation involved four dioceses, four seminaries, including the Irish College in Rome, and religious orders in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“With a great sense of pain and shame,” the summary read, “it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics" and others while those who should have been watching over the priests' conduct often were not.
The summary said the investigators found that progress had been made in eradicating the problem as well as in preventing abuse. It listed a set of guidelines aimed at seminaries, calling for better screening of candidates and a more complete formation of future priests regarding celibacy and the pastoral care of sex abuse victims and their families.
In complying with guidelines issued by Ireland’s National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, the summary said that the four dioceses inspected had made “excellent” progress. Archbishops had assured the investigators that all newly-discovered cases of abuse are “promptly brought before both the competent civil authority” and the competent Vatican agency.
The responsibility of church authorities in notifying police when accusations of clerical abuse arise has been a bitter point of contention in the sex abuse scandal.
Irish government reports on the problem concluded that church authorities, often complicit with civil authorities, had routinely dismissed complaints of abusive priests or other church figures.
The latest investigation, known as the Cloyne report and released in July 2011, charged that a culture of coverup and concern for the reputation of the church rather than for the victims continued.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at the time accused the Vatican of downplaying the abuse of Irish children by clerics and undermining child protection measures. The Vatican has denied the accusation.
Diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the predominantly Roman Catholic country have suffered. The government has announced the imminent closure of its embassy to the Holy See in Rome, ostensibly for cost-cutting reasons.
The summary recommended that Irish church authorities “continue to devote much time listening to and receiving victims.”
Photo: Pope Benedict XVI speaks during the Angelus prayer Sunday in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Credit: Samantha Zucchi / European Pressphoto Agency