Insights from the UK and beyond
Ireland's prime minister has said Catholic clerics would be prosecuted if they failed to tell the authorities about crimes disclosed during confession, the latest blow to the prestige of the once-dominant Church. A report this week found that the Church concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009, and that clerics appeared to follow Church law rather than Irish guidelines to protect minors.
"The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar," Prime Minister Enda Kenny told journalists on Thursday, referring to the hooked staff held by Catholic bishops during religious services. Kenny said his government would submit legislation to parliament that could jail clerics for up to five years if they failed to report to authorities information about the abuse of children.
The law will override the confessional privilege in Church law that prevents clerics from sharing information, he said. A series of revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
A government-sponsored report said on Wednesday the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland continued to conceal the sexual abuse of children by priests even after it introduced rules in the mid-1990s to protect minors.
Revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland. But the latest report into the handling of sex abuse claims in the diocese of Cloyne, in County Cork, shows that senior-ranking clergy were still trying to cover up abuse allegations almost until the present day.
The Irish government asked religious orders on Tuesday to consider transferring buildings and land to the state to cover a 200 million euros shortfall in their contribution to a compensation fund for victims of abuse. The congregations agreed in 2009 to provide more compensation to victims of rape, beatings and slave labour in now defunct industrial schools they ran after the publication of a report into the abuse shocked the once devout Catholic country.
(Photo: Girl waves papal flag before a Mass with Pope Benedict in London September 18, 2010/Kevin Coombs)
Pope Benedict apologized to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying pedophile priests had brought "shame and humiliation" on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. It was the 83-year-old pontiff's latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.
"I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes ...," he said in his sermon inΒ Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics here in the late 19th century to assert their rights after the Reformation.
(Photo: Mark Fabbro, Chris Daly, Sue Cox, Margaret Kennedy and Peter Saunders (L-R), who said they were survivors of abuse by Catholic priests, pose after a news conference in London September 15, 2010/Toby Melville)
Victims of abuse by Catholic priests urged the Vatican on the eve of Pope Benedict's visit to Britain to hand over lists of suspected offenders to the police to prevent further cases of clerical sex crimes.
Speaking in London on Wednesday, a group of victims and activists said the Vatican should go beyond verbal apologies and offer concrete steps to make amends over clergy abuse.
One regular but regularly unannounced feature of papal trips in recent years has been the private meeting with local Catholics who were sexually abused as youths by priests. Journalists only find out about them after they've taken place. Just such a meeting seems to be on the cards during Pope Benedict's visit to Britain next week, but of course it does not appear in his official schedule. Chris Patten, the prime minister's special representative for the papal visit,Β said as much on Monday in an interview with BBC television (quote at the end of the clip):
"On several previous visits, the pope has met victims of abuse. He has never said he was going to meet them before he did and his meetings have always, for very understandable reasons, been private. I would be surprised if in this visit or any future visit he behaved in any different way."