Vatican Summit Addresses Irish Sex Abuse Cases

Pope Benedict XVI has summoned more than two dozen Irish bishops to the Vatican for meetings to discuss Ireland's massive clerical sex abuse scandal. The meetings, Monday and Tuesday, could lead to a major shake-up in the Irish Church hierarchy.

Two months ago, an investigation known as the Murphy Commission Report into the Dublin diocese revealed that the Irish Church had been covering up crimes by dozens of pedophile priests against hundreds of young people for decades.

The report came just seven months after another investigation revealed chronic beatings, rapes, near-starvation and humiliation of 30,000 children in state-run schools and orphanages all run by the Catholic Church.

Bishop Joseph Duffy, a spokesman for the Irish Bishops Conference, acknowledges that the meetings with the pope will have to lead to major changes in the Irish Church.

"This is not just a cosmetic exercise," Duffy says. "If anything has come out of this, is the failure of all of us, including the bishops, not to do as we are expected to do."

The Murphy report cites one priest who admitted molesting more than 100 children, and another who said he molested children at least once every two weeks for 25 years.

The impact of the two reports on clerical sex abuse has been devastating in devoutly Catholic Ireland, and attendance at Sunday mass has dropped sharply.

"The first concern has to be the question of survivors, the enormous injustice and cruelty they have suffered," Duffy says.

Each bishop will have seven minutes to speak directly before the pope and give his version of events.

"The casualty in this has been the truth," Duffy adds. "The fullness of truth must come out, everything must be laid out on the table."

But victims' groups are demanding concrete actions. Four bishops have offered resignations, and the pope has so far accepted one of them.

Victims group One in Four has called for the resignation of other bishops, who engaged in what it calls "a culture of cover-up."

Victims' groups say they will seek damages that could undermine the Irish Church's finances. The Irish Church is a big player in the country's economy — it runs 92 percent of the state-owned primary schools and owns some of Ireland's biggest hospitals.

One in Four also has complained of Vatican obstruction.

The Murphy report said specifically that Vatican officials refused to deal directly with investigators, saying they had not gone through the proper diplomatic channels.

Bishop Duffy believes Pope Benedict has known what was going on in Ireland for a long time.

"It's my information that the pope is very well clued in on this whole issue," Duffy says. "That even before he became pope, he had access to the documentation. That he knew exactly what was in the documentation, and that he wasn't living in a fool's paradise, that he knew exactly the issues and total complexity of them."

As the Irish bishops were preparing to come to Rome, the Catholic Church was rocked by another sex abuse scandal in the pope's native Germany. The abuse allegedly occurred in Jesuit schools in Berlin, Hamburg, Bonn and other cities.

This is the first time a sex abuse scandal has hit a priestly order considered the intellectual elite of the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Stephan Dartmann, head of the Jesuit order in Germany, said that an immense tragedy is becoming apparent.

Observers say the German Catholic Church is just at the start of a painful process that is all too familiar to the Irish and Americans.

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