Pope sends 'pastoral letter' to Ireland amid protests from Irish Church abuse victims

The Pope must personally apologize to Irish Catholic Church sex abuse victims, and admit the Church abused its power and covered up for pedophile priests, a large Irish victims' group said Friday — the same day Benedict signed his promised "pastoral letter" to Irish Catholics.

"One in Four" has a clear agenda for Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming pastoral letter to Ireland's Catholics — which will be released Saturday — about the scandal that has rocked the nation.

One in Four wants the Pope to admit that the Church — "at the highest levels" — has known about the pedophile priest problem and its cover-up for decades.

The victims' group suggested the Pontiff say "We have pursued a deliberate policy of cover-up, protecting sex offenders in order to avoid scandal, with no regard for the safety of children. The scandal of clerical sexual abuse is international and extends far beyond the Irish Church."

One in Four also demands that Benedict admit that his Church had "silenced and sanctioned courageous priests and lay people who have tried to expose the endemic sexual abuse."

The letter's release date would have been touchy, and its content controversial, no matter what — but in recent days it has come to light that Ireland's top cleric, Cardinal Sean Brady, had sworn two children to secrecy during a 1975 probe into their abuse by the notorious pedophile Father Brendan Smyth.

New abuse scandals have also come to light in the Pope's native Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Brady has admitted that, in retrospect, his handling of the case reflected poor judgment and a lack of understanding of the problem. Brady says he should have alerted police about the priest, who was eventually convicted of sexually abusing 20 children over a 40-year period.

Speaking in English to Irish pilgrims in St Peter's Square, the 82-year-old Pontiff said he hoped his letter would "help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal."

"As you know," he told them, "in recent months, the Church in Ireland has been severely shaken by the crisis of child abuse. As a token of my deep concern, I have written a pastoral letter to address this painful situation. I will sign it on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family and patron of the universal Church, and send it immediately. I ask that you read it yourselves, with an open heart and in a spirit of faith."   

Irish bishops were summoned to the Vatican in February to discuss the crisis caused by the child abuse revelations and ensuing cover-up. The Vatican announced that Benedict was working on the pastoral letter shortly after the meeting.

A top Vatican official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said the Pope's pastoral letter would contain "specific measures" on how Church institutions and communities, not just in Ireland, should deal with cases of pedophile priests as well as other forms of abuse.

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