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Pope Benedict scolds Ireland's bishops over sex abuse scandal

In an unprecedented move, Pope Benedict XVI summoned all 24 of Ireland's bishops to the Vatican to discuss the fallout from two reports that Catholic priests in Ireland sexually abused children for decades and that church officials covered up the behavior.

By Correspondent / February 16, 2010

Cardinal Sean Brady, right, and Irish Bishop Joseph Duffy answer reporters' questions during a press conference at Vatican Radio office, in Rome, Tuesday. Pope Benedict XVI called all of Ireland's bishops to the Vatican to discuss reports that Catholic priests in Ireland sexually abused children for decades and that church officials covered it up.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP


Vatican City

All 24 of Ireland’s serving Roman Catholic bishops were hauled in front of the pope to be told that the sexual abuse of children was a “heinous crime,” in what Vatican experts said was an unprecedented attempt to deal with a sexual abuse crisis that has roiled the church establishment.

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The bishops were called to Rome for a two-day summit with Benedict XVI on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a scandal that has shaken once staunchly Catholic Ireland to its core – with recent revelations that for decades priests and other clergy sexually abused children while church and police officials sometimes looked the other way.

The Church’s covering up the sexual abuse of children had caused a “grave crisis” that had led to “a breakdown in trust in the Church's leadership," the pontiff told the bishops.

In unusually forthright language, he told the bishops that the sexual abuse of children was a “grave sin.”

He called on them to work hard to restore "spiritual and moral credibility” in the wake of two reports released last year which documented abuse and cover-ups in church-run schools, workhouses, and orphanages over 50 years.

The Vatican has admitted that sex abuse scandals in Ireland, the United States, Australia and, most recently, in Germany, have gravely damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church and present a "hard and humiliating challenge."

Vatican insiders say the priority given to tackling the scandal was unprecedented.

Crisis management

“I know of no other case where the pope has summoned all the bishops of a country to the Vatican for a crisis management session,” says Francis X. Rocca, the Vatican correspondent for the Washington-based Religion News Service.

“They come routinely every five years but this was to talk about this specific problem. The fact that the pope met with them two days in a row is an extraordinary commitment of his time when you think of all the demands he faces.”

The sex abuse scandal broke in May last year when a report ordered by the Irish government revealed that the Catholic Church covered up almost four decades of sexual and physical abuse by priests and nuns against thousands of children in state care. Serial abusers were moved from parish to parish and school to school in a successful attempt to save the careers of clergy and keep the scandal under wraps, the report said.

That was followed by another report six months later, which revealed that pedophile priests had engaged in sex abuse between 1975 and 2004 and found that several bishops had mishandled complaints made by victims.