A Vatican delegation to Ireland concluded Tuesday in an investigative report on causes of an Irish sex abuse scandal that came to light several years ago that local church leaders were guilty of negligence. Delegates also asked victims for forgiveness in the name of the Roman Catholic Church, and vowed to continue to implement reform to further protect children.
The report is a conclusion of the two-year investigation by seven Vatican-appointed church leaders who visited four archdioceses across Ireland; the report was promised by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to Catholics in Ireland in 2010. It looked at the church' s dealings with survivors of abuse and current child protection policies.
The report on sexual abuse of Irish children by Catholic clergy blames Ireland's religious leaders. Investigators said church authorities, including some bishops, had failed to understand and react to the problem. In the report summary, church delegates asked victims for forgiveness in the name of the Roman Catholic Church.
"During their stay in Ireland, the Visitators were able themselves to see just how much the shortcomings of the past gave rise to an inadequate understanding of and reaction to the terrible phenomenon of the abuse of minors, not least on the part of various Bishops and Religious Superiors," the report reads. "With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics and Religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively."
"For these faults, forgiveness must once more be asked," the report reads, adding that Pope Benedict XVI felt "dismay and betrayal" over "sinful and criminal acts."
Speaking after the publication of the report, Primate of Ireland Sean Brady said it was a "helpful snapshot of a key moment on the ongoing journey of renewal."
However, the report also emphasized that the Catholic Church continuously tries to improve its understanding of the issue and to prevent future abuse. Irish bishops assured Vatican investigators that they would promptly notify civil authorities of new sexual abuse suspicions and would make changes to Catholic education and seminary life. Irish seminaries had implemented programs to educate future priests in the protection of minors, the report states. Furthermore, investigators found that such preventive guidelines, dating from 2008, "have proved to be an effective instrument for handling accusations of abuse and for increasing the awareness of the entire Christian community in the area of child protection."
"Much attention and care has been shown to the victims, both in terms of spiritual and psychological assistance and also from a legal and financial standpoint," the report states, although it still calls for "further improvement," such as better preparation of future priests for a life of celibacy, more consistent criteria for admission to seminaries so that potential abusers are weeded out early on, and more attention paid to victims and their families.
But many Irish victims and their supporters have suggested that the Catholic Church was too quick to pat itself on the back. Advocacy groups representing victims seem little enthusiastic about the report's findings and the genuineness of the Catholic Church's intentions. Some have suggested the report does not go deep enough and shows that the church wants to simply move on.
A representative of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse, based in Northern Ireland, told the media that the Vatican has missed an opportunity to use "Ireland as a beacon of light and hope for victims of institutional and clerical abuse across the world."
The organization's U.S. counterpart, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, also chimed in, heavily criticizing the report.
"No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive all-male monarchy with a horrific history of ignoring and concealing child sex crimes," Barbara Dorris, SNAP's outreach director, said in a statement published on the organization's website.
"'Internal' reports or inquiries or recommendations by such institutions are nearly meaningless," Dorris added. "They're more about trying to restore a battered public image and the confidence of pained parishioners than about genuine reform."
Dorris continued: "During or after devastating clergy sex crimes and cover ups, Catholic officials will promise the sun, moon and stars to parishioners and the public, hoping to 'turn the page' and deflect attention from the painful present to an allegedly more promising future. But wishing or pledging reform doesn't create reform." Only decisive action creates it, the SNAP member added. And in the sex scandal, "decisive action by the church hierarchy seems to be forever lacking."
Meanwhile, the report claims some clergy members were "unjustly tainted" because of the scandal. "Many lay persons have experienced a loss of trust in their pastors. Many good priests and religious (nuns) have felt unjustly tainted by association with the accused in the court of public opinion" the report claims.
The report also calls on the Irish Church to be more open as an institution and to establish a better relationship with the media.
Starting in the 1990s, a series of criminal cases and Irish government inquiries established that hundreds of priests had abused thousands of children in previous decades. In many cases, the abusing priests were moved to other parishes to avoid embarrassment or a scandal, assisted by senior clergy. Unlike the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in the United States, the scandal in Ireland included cases of high-profile Catholic clerics.
The investigation, concluded by the report, was meant to provide justice by the Vatican to victims of one of the biggest scandals the Roman Catholic Church has seen, and to save its crumbling reputation, experts suggested. Years of crises over sexual abuse have included several damning government reports, the resignations of three Irish bishops, the papal letter to Irish Catholics and a diplomatic falling out between Ireland and the Vatican, which saw Dublin closing its embassy in the Holy See.