Child abuse scandal ‘left Catholic Church with no credibility’, says Rowan Williams

The scandal over paedophile priests has caused the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland to lose “all credibility”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In an unusual intervention, the leader of the Anglican communion said that the controversy had been a “colossal trauma” for Ireland.

His comments came as the Pope’s personal preacher likened accusations against the pontiff and the Catholic church in the sex abuse scandal to anti-Semitism.

The Rev Raniero Cantalamessa said in a Good Friday homily, with the pope listening in St Peter’s Basilica, that a Jewish friend had said the accusations reminded him of the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”.

He said: “They [Jews] know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognise the recurring symptoms.”

Dr Rowan Williams, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week, to be broadcast on Monday, said: “I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.

“An institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility — that’s not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland.”

According to Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the most senior Roman Catholic in Britain, child abuse committed by priests has led to “a great public humiliation’’ of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cardinal O’Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, will tell Easter Sunday worshippers that the cover-up of ‘‘evil’’ paedophilia by senior clergy ‘‘brings shame on us all’’.

His forthright comments on one of the most important days in the Christian calendar highlight the concern within the Church about the effect of clergy sex abuse scandals unfolding around the world.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, is under pressure to stand down after two official reports in the past year found that sexual abuse was ‘‘endemic’’ in church-run schools.

Historic cases of abuse in Germany and America have led to accusations that Pope Benedict XVI, in his former roles during the 1980s and 1990s, had allowed guilty priests to escape punishment.

In his homily, to be delivered at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh tomorrow, Cardinal O’Brien will acknowledge the harm done to the Catholic Church worldwide by the recent claims and apologise to victims.

He will say: ‘‘Crimes against children have indeed been committed and any Catholics who were aware of such crimes and did not act to report them, brings shame on us all.

‘‘One might say that there has been a great ‘public humiliation’ of the Church as in some way or another we realise that we have not been as alert as we should have been to the evils being perpetrated around us, whatever our particular position.’’