CATHOLIC bishops in England and Wales have asked for forgiveness and offered a “heartfelt” apology for the child abuse scandal that has engulfed the church. A joint statement presented by the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, was issued at the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and was due to go out to all parishes at the end of a plenary meeting in Leeds, in the north of England. The statement described the crimes carried out by some priests and religious figures as a “profound scandal” and said: “They bring deep shame to the whole church. But shame is not enough. The abuse of children is a grievous sin against God. Therefore we focus not on shame but on our sorrow for these sins … We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God for these terrible deeds done in our midst. There can be no excuses.”
The statement said the church would work with safeguarding commissions within its dioceses to ensure relevant steps were taken to protect against any further abuse and atone for those who were already victims. The statement of contrition follows remarks by Pope Benedict XVI in which he made his first call for change since a series of accusations of abuse engulfed the Catholic church. In his weekly public audience in St Peter’s Square, the pope spoke of an earlier statement issued by the Vatican pledging that the church would take action to confront the clerical sex abuse scandal. The statement said the church would do everything in its power to bring justice against abusive priests and would implement “effective measures” to protect children. The pope was set to formally accept the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty, who admitted in December that he had not challenged the Dublin archdiocese’s past practice of concealing child abuse complaints from the police.
Moriarty will be the latest Irish bishop to have his resignation ratified by the papacy following the fallout from the Murphy report on child abuse in Ireland. He has already made it known that he expected that the Vatican would agree to his offer to resign. He described his resignation as “the most difficult decision of my ministry” and admitted that he had not originally intended to resign after the publication of the Murphy report in November. “However, renewal must begin with accepting the responsibility for the past. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that we needed a new beginning, and that I could play my part in opening the way,” he added.
Despite today’s expected announcement, the fate of Dublin auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field, who offered their resignations last Christmas Eve, also in the wake of the Murphy report, remains unclear. Last month the pope accepted the resignation of another member of the Irish hierarchy, the Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee. The church has been inundated by criticism since the Murphy report on decades of child abuse in Ireland, which revealed that paedophile priests were shielded by their peers and officials.
[By Mark Tran, The Guardian, London]