Victims groups in Ireland have been quick to criticize Pope Benedict's pastoral letter on child abuse, which was released yesterday.

Maeve Lewis, head of 'One in Four' victims group, stated that the Pope "passed up a glorious opportunity to address the core issue in the scandal, the deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children.

 "The Pope speaks only of failures in the Irish church and neglects the role of the Vatican. If the church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial, “she told the Sunday Independent

She said she was "astounded" at the Pope's previous assertion that the roots of clerical sexual abuse lie in the secularization of Irish society, the falling off of religious devotion, and failures to adhere to canon law.

"This shows a complete misunderstanding of the dynamics of sexual violence and creates little hope that the church will ever respond effectively to the problem."

Author and survivor Andrew Madden said issues highlighted by him and others in a letter to the Pope had been ignored

"There has been no owning up of the Catholic Church's part in causing the sexual abuse of so many children by protecting pedophile priests.

"Instead Pope Benedict has repeated his apology for the hurt caused to those abused but the church's role is referred to only as failing to deal with criminal and sinful acts.

"The Catholic Church did not fail to act -- it acted very clearly to protect itself and leave other children to pay the price," he said.

Another survivor, Marie Collins said she welcomed the order that church leaders should co-operate with police, but she said there had been "no mention of Vatican directives that may have led to the problem."

Fine Gael member of parliament Alan Shatter also lashed out at the Pope, saying:  "We should never again tolerate a foreign state issuing directives to members of the hierarchy and other clerics in this state to violate Irish law by concealing reports of child sexual abuse and not reporting such allegations.

"Nor should we ever again tolerate a foreign state requiring that an oath of any nature be taken by an adult or child to maintain a veil of secrecy over incidents of sexual abuse."

The latter was a reference to a case involving current Cardinal Sean Brady who in 1975 swore two young children to an oath not to reveal their abuse.