RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When they met at the Vatican this week, Pope Benedict called to task Irish bishops for the history of sex abuse in that country. And the pope apologized. But in the U.S., American victims were unimpressed, and they're waiting to see if the pope follows up with action. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The scandal in Ireland is all too familiar: thousands of children abused and neglected as some Irish bishops protected the alleged predatory priests. But there's been a change in the eight years since the scandal erupted in the United States. Benedict is now pope and his attitude appears different.
Father THOMAS REESE (Senior fellow, Georgetown University Woodstock Theological Center): I think he takes this very seriously. I think he's dealing with it much better than Pope John Paul II did.
HAGERTY: Father Thomas Reese is a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. Reese says Benedict has been quicker and more transparent in admitting the abuse and cover up.
Father REESE: When he came to the United States, he must have apologized four or five times. He met with victims of abuse. This is something that's never happened before. So I think that Benedict gets it. I give him pretty good marks for how he has responded.
HAGERTY: But U.S. victims do not. For example, Alexa MacPherson, who was abused by her priest in Boston when she was a child, is not impressed that the pope said the abuse was a, quote, "heinous crime."
Ms. ALEXA MACPHERSON: I mean, everybody out there knows that's it a heinous crime, it shouldn't have happened. So what's he going to do about it? I mean, saying it and doing something about it are two completely different avenues.
HAGERTY: MacPherson does not believe the Vatican has radically changed.
Ms. MACPHERSON: I think they're just going to pay people to shut them up and hope that everybody forgets about it.
HAGERTY: And Bernie McDaid, a victim who met with Benedict when the pope visited the U.S. in 2008, says he is let down.
Mr. BERNIE MCDAID: I don't care if they clean up all of Ireland tomorrow, they've got a whole world in front of them that they need to clean up that they haven't. This is 2010! That's what I keep coming back to. And here we are again with the same issue.
HAGERTY: He notes that in the U.S., few people were punished. The only Catholic leader to resign was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, and he was transferred to Rome. McDaid says he's happy that four Irish bishops have offered to resign. But...
Mr. MCDAID: Why hasn't that happened across the United States? Why did Bernie Law run to Rome and sit for cover in the Vatican? Why is he still on a board that votes bishops in and out? What is going on here?
HAGERTY: If the pope wants to regain trust - and bring Catholics back to church - plaintiff's attorney Mitchell Garabedian says Benedict will have to offer more than words, no matter how strong.
Mr. MITCHELL GARABEDIAN (Attorney): Let's see if the words are followed by actions here, whether he's going to allow testimony to lawmakers, documents to be released, and he's going to allow bishops to admit their guilt publicly.
HAGERTY: That may not happen. The Vatican's embassy in Ireland has so far refused to cooperate with the parliamentary committee investigating the abuse claims.
The news from Ireland has more than an emotional echo here, says Joe Rigert, author of�"An Irish Tragedy." He says by the 1960s, thousands of priests and bishops came from Ireland.
Mr. JOE RIGERT (Author, "An Irish Tragedy"): Many Irish priests were exported to the United States. They helped build the Catholic Church in the United States. And in the last decades, many of these Irish priests became sexual predators.
HAGERTY: Rigert has documents suggesting that at least 70 Irish priests in the U.S. were sexual abusers. He believes most have retired, died or returned to Ireland. But one Irish priest is the subject of a case working its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And that case could force the Vatican to open its secret files to the outside world.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
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