A press release issued today at the end of the two-day summit, which called together all of the serving diocesan bishops of Ireland along with senior members of the Roman curia, affirmed that discussions revolved around the "serious situation" of the Church in that country.
The prelates examined with the Pope the "failure of Irish Church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious."
"All those present recognized that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the Church's leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching," the press release acknowledged.
Last November, the Murphy Commission Report was publicized, detailing abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese from 1975 to 2004 and the failure of the authorities to adequately respond.
The publication of that report followed another, the Ryan report, which was released last May and detailed widespread child abuse in Catholic schools throughout the country.
For this reason, on Dec. 11 the Pontiff met with Cardinal Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh and president of the Irish episcopal conference, and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. Later, in January, he called all of the serving bishops of Ireland to Rome for a meeting.
The meeting was marked by a "spirit of prayer and collegial fraternity" and offered "guidance and support" to the 24 bishops "in their efforts to address the situation in their respective dioceses," the press release reported.
The summit began Monday morning with Mass, and then a meeting with the Holy Father. Each bishop was given the opportunity to offer observations and suggestions about the situation.
The Vatican communiqué noted that the prelates "spoke frankly of the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused."
"There was a similar sense of outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious in this regard," it added.
The prelates told Benedict XVI about the support currently being provided "by thousands of trained and dedicated lay volunteers at parish level to ensure the safety of children in all Church activities."
They added that "while there is no doubt that errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people."
The bishops underlined their commitment to cooperated with the authorities and the Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children in order to "guarantee that the Church's standards, policies and procedures represent best practice in this area."
The Pope affirmed that "the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image," the press release noted.
Honesty and courage
It added that the Pontiff challenged the prelates to "address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage."
He expressed the hope that this summit would help unify the bishops and "enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the Church's spiritual and moral credibility."
The Holy Father addressed the "more general crisis of faith affecting the Church," linking this to "the lack of respect for the human person."
He noted that "the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors."
In this light, Benedict XVI emphasized the need for "deeper theological reflection on the whole issue." He called for "an improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained and professed."
The bishops reviewed and discussed the draft of a pastoral letter written by the Pope to the Catholics of Ireland.
The Vatican communiqué stated that the Pontiff will take into account the comments from the prelates before he publicizes the letter during Lent, which begins Wednesday.
As the summit concluded this morning, the Holy Father sent the bishops back to their dioceses, asking that this Lent "be set aside as a time for imploring an outpouring of God's mercy and the Holy Spirit's gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in Ireland."
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