The Pope's response to the Catholic Church scandals in Ireland has come up woefully short -- which should be no surprise.

To say he was "truly sorry" was the bare minimum. Saying bishops had erred "sometimes grievously" was a light slap on the wrists for the disgraceful behavior of so many. He did not call on those bishops who are guilty to step down.

Describing the abuse of children by Irish clergy and religious as "sinful and criminal" were the usual weasel words, with no actions to follow.

No amount of Vatican-speak can remove the heart of the matter that evil men who abused children were protected and defended by the same Church that claims to speak for God on earth.

Benedict is a canon lawyer supreme, and this document, with its careful parsing and analysis, reflects that. There was no other recourse he could take.

Of course, there is a bloodless apology and a plan to do more to protect kids in the future. And no doubt, that will be the case -- but the horse has bolted and all the Pope's prelates cannot put the horse back in the stable again.

That is simply because the crime is so reprehensible and the cover-up so outrageous that the Pope resembles nothing more than a thief at the gallows repenting his crime and those of his followers.

The deed itself is so awful as to make any effort at apology or excuse for covering-up entirely useless. Young boys and girls were stripped, raped, beaten -- some even killed by their abusers. The Pope is powerless against that.

Take Cardinal Sean Brady in Ireland for instance, who last week tried to explain how in 1975 he had made two young children swear an oath of silence -- on a Bible no less -- over abuse allegations by the worst pedophile of all, Father Brendan Smyth. Even though he believed their allegations, he refused to report Smyth to the police.

No matter what way Brady tried to twist it, it is impossible to put it in any other light: He covered up the abuse of innocent children by a monster.

In any era, at any time, in any historical context, what he did was wrong. He can claim the standards of the day back in 1975 were different, but they were not. Abusing children is a heinous crime in any era.

That is why Benedict has flailed and failed with this document. There is simply no way to explain it away, no amount of apology, no plea to do better that can make the slightest bit of difference.

Against this sin, even the Pope is powerless.