Papal letter fails to quell scandals engulfing Irish Catholic church

Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral letter to Ireland’s Catholics has failed to arrest the scandal engulfing the church, with pressure growing for the resignation of bishops who were in positions of authority during the paedophile priest cover-up.

Calls for bishops to step down came amid revelations of more abuse cases, including some in Germany.

The Focus news magazine reported that the head of the German bishops’ conference had admitted that the Roman Catholic church had consciously covered up cases of sexual abuse by priests.

It said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, who also heads the conference, said “sexual abuse was covered up for decades by society”.

He said that while most cases happened outside the church, “assaults that took place in such numbers within our institutions shame and frighten me”, adding that “every single case darkens the face of the entire church”.

Yesterday, Zollitsch apologised for a sexual abuse cover-up that happened in a Black Forest community while he was in charge of human resources at the Freiburg diocese 20 years ago.

In Ireland, Father Brian D’Arcy an influential author and television personality, said he was disappointed that the pope had failed to lay out a major reform programme for the Catholic church in his letter.

“Those reforms should include [priestly] celibacy, canon law and unquestioning authority,” he said. “All those questions need to be asked in the reform of the institution. His letter is only one step on the way.”

D’Arcy also criticised the pontiff for linking a decline in churchgoing to sexual abuse. “He seems to be linking a decline in faith to this abuse, and that is wholly incorrect,” he added.

Meanwhile, the editor of the Irish Catholic magazine, Garry O’Sullivan, used a radio programme on Radio Ulster to call for the mass resignation of those Irish bishops who were in positions of authority during the paedophile cover-up.

His call for the bishops to step down en masse in response to the clerical abuse scandals was bolstered by revelations that another bishop had failed to inform police about a paedophile priest.

Bishop Joseph Duffy admitted he knew about allegations of abuse against a priest in his Clogher diocese in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, in 1989 ‑ six years before the cleric appeared in court on abuse charges.

Duffy was told Father John McCabe had abused a young boy in his car. However, he failed to report the incident to police or social services in Northern Ireland. In 1995, McCabe, who had then left the priesthood, was jailed for 20 months for abusing the boy between 1979 and 1985.

The revelations have drawn the Catholic school system into the scandal. Despite complaints from the boy’s mother about McCabe, St Michael’s, the Enniskillen school in which he taught, wrote him a reference to get him a job at an integrated school in Belfast.

In a statement this weekend, Duffy said he “regrets” how he handled the McCabe case and accepted he should have told police about the family’s allegations.

It now appears that the pope’s apology is unlikely to quell public anger towards the Catholic church in Ireland after a calamitous week for the Irish hierarchy.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the Irish Catholic leader, still faces demands from clerical abuse victims to stand down over his role in silencing two young victims of paedophile priest Father Brendan Smyth.

Ireland’s main opposition party, Fine Gael, expressed disappointment that the papal letter did not address the issue of the papal nuncio’s refusal to co-operate both with the public inquiries into clerical abuse and the Garda Siochana.

The papal nuncio in Dublin has used diplomatic immunity to refuse to collaborate in any investigations into clerical child sex abuse.

Alan Shatter, the Fine Gael spokesman on children, said: “We should not regard it as acceptable that the Vatican uses its ecclesiastical authority to interfere in the internal affairs of this state and also invokes diplomatic protocol when it suits it, to withhold information from a government-appointed commission investigating allegations of clerical abuse.

“Nor is it acceptable that the Vatican refuses to permit its ambassador, in the guise of the papal nuncio, to co-operate with such a commission or to attend at a parliamentary committee meeting requested by members of the sovereign parliament of this state to discuss these issues.