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Pope Benedict rips Irish church for "grave errors of judgment"

Pope Benedict XVI ordered an investigation into an Irish church.

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The results of the Irish investigation could lead to further action.

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Victims have been demanding that bishops resign, and three Irish bishops have offered to step down. Benedict hasn't accepted the resignations.

Asked why there were no punitive provisions in the letter, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that the letter was pastoral, not administrative or disciplinary in nature, and that any further measures concerning resignations would be taken by the competent Vatican offices.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the top cardinal in Ireland who himself is under fire for not reporting a notorious abuser to police, welcomed the letter.

"Let us pray that the Holy Father's pastoral letter will be the beginning of a great season of rebirth and hope in the Irish Church," he said.

Three Irish government-ordered investigations published from 2005 to 2009 have documented how thousands of Irish children suffered rape, molestation and other abuse by priests in their parishes and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages. Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until 1996 after victims began to sue the church.

The reports have faulted Rome for sending confusing messages to the Irish church about norms to be followed and, in general, for what it called the absence of a coherent set of canon laws and rules to apply in cases of abuse.

In particular, the so-called Murphy report faulted the 2001 secrecy letter penned by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a quarter-century before becoming pope, making him the most informed Vatican official about the global scale of clerical abuse.

In that role, he denounced the "filth" in the priesthood and initiated what has amounted to a crackdown on predatory priests, demanding a policy of zero tolerance from his bishops. As pope, he has met with American, Australian and Canadian victims of abuse, offering them comfort and apologies.

Nevertheless, reports emerged last week that while he was archbishop of Munich in the 1980s, Ratzinger approved therapy for a priest suspected of molesting boys. The priest was then transferred to a job where he later abused more children. He was convicted in a criminal trial. The archdiocese has said Ratzinger's then vicar general took full responsibility for the transfer.

Lombardi defended Benedict in his handling of the global abuse scandal and said anyone who knows the pontiff's background and history would know he has been a "witness for coherence and correctness" in confronting abuse and a "guide to overcome a past of silence."

Lombardi was peppered with questions about why the German-born pope didn't directly address the German scandal or take the opportunity of the letter to make a more sweeping commentary on the now-global dimensions of the scandal.

Lombardi acknowledged the other cases but said the Irish scandal was unique in its scope. But he said that obviously issues in the letter could be read to apply to other countries and individuals.

"You can't talk about the entire world every time," he said. "It risks becoming banal."

The head of the German bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, said the letter was a message also for Germany.

"The sexual abuse scandal in Ireland is not just an Irish problem, it is the scandal of the church in many places, it is the scandal of the church in Germany," he said.

A prominent German Catholic activist group, We Are Church, said it respected the pope's efforts with the letter.

But it faulted him for failing to address the fact that abuse is a global and structural problem for the church. "It would be good if there would be a mea culpa from him for all victims around the globe," said spokesman Christian Weisner.

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