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Ireland greets pope's apology with skepticism

Mainstream Catholics call the pope's analysis flawed.

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, speaks in Saint-Patricks Cathedral on March 20, 2010 in Armagh, Northern Ireland. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

DUBLIN, Ireland ― Pope Benedict XVI’s response to the clerical child abuse scandal in Ireland has been widely criticized as flawed for placing much of the blame for the abuse and cover-ups on secularism rather than church structures.

In a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, read out to the faithful at masses on Sunday, the 82-year-old pope apologized to victims, saying “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry.” He noted that in recent decades the Catholic Church in Ireland had to confront “new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularisation of Irish society.” It was in this overall context “that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the church and her teachings.”

Following the statement, the Irish branch of the mainstream Catholic organization Voice of the Faithful criticized the pope’s failure to acknowledge that it was secular agencies such as the media, the police, the civil courts and the state that uncovered a problem kept hidden by the church’s own systems of governance. And in an editorial Monday, The Irish Times argued that those in charge of the Irish church during the worst periods of abuse and cover-up were scarcely the liberals criticized regularly by the Pope: “His secularization of the Church — meaning the introduction of social legislation such as contraception, separation and divorce for women — comes from an old-fashioned, authoritarian, misogynistic church concerned above all with its reputation.”

In his letter, the pope announced a Vatican investigation of some dioceses and church institutions in Ireland, and advised clerics to “submit yourselves to the demands of justice.” It did not comment on calls for the resignation of the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, who is under pressure to step down because of his handling of abuse claims by two young people against notorious serial abuser Father Brendan Smyth. As a priest, Brady swore them to secrecy and passed their complaints to his bishop rather than the police, and Smyth continued to rape children for more than a decade.

Four Irish bishops have offered their resignations following revelations of cover-up in the recent Murphy report on the Dublin archdiocese but three have not been accepted by the Vatican.