Pope's words on paedophilia 'unlikely to satisfy victims'

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Some of Pope Benedict XVI's clearest criticism yet of the Catholic Church's approach to paedophile priests will fall short of the demands of abuse victims, Vatican analysts said.

As he flew into Scotland to begin a four-day state visit to Britain, the pope told journalists on his plane that church authorities had "not been vigilant enough" to prevent the abuse of children by priests and nuns.

The Church "did not act quickly or firmly enough to take the necessary action" to quell the problem, he said, expressing "sadness".

Marco Politi, a commentator for Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, said that while the comments were a small step forward, they would do little to silence criticism of the Vatican's stance on abuse.

"The pope is sincere in his regrets, but that will not be enough in the eyes of victims' groups," he told AFP.

Andrea Tornielli, author of a handful of books about popes past and present and Vatican correspondent for Italy's Il Giornale daily, said: "The pope made some important statements, but these words will not suffice."

In the first reaction, one victims' group dismissed the comments as "hurtful".

"The pope's disingenuous comments about the abuse and cover-up crisis are hurtful, not helpful," Joell Casteix of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement.

"It's disingenuous to say church officials have been slow and insufficiently vigilant in dealing with clergy sex crimes and cover-ups.

"On the contrary, they've been prompt and vigilant, but in concealing, not preventing, these horrors."

Marco Politi said victims' groups had three clear demands: "clarity about the past, especially about the abuses of the 80s and 90s; a concrete programme of compensation for victims; and that the pope meet victims' groups -- and not just victims he has chosen, as he did in Australia, the United States and Malta".

But Tornielli said the pope's comments represented a "full and entire recognition of the responsibility of bishops, and also of the Vatican".

"Such a statement is not new," he said, recalling that the pope had made similar expressions of regret in his letter to the Irish people following the publication of a report in November 2009 detailing hundreds of cases of abuse covered up by the Catholic hierarchy.

At the same time, his words Thursday "should help to lift the spirits of victims' groups," Tornielli said.

The pope's words are also likely to fall on deaf ears in parts of the Catholic Church, with some members seeing the denunciation of the abuse scandals as a plot against the Vatican.

On Good Friday this year, Benedict's personal preacher likened the tide of allegations that the pontiff has covered up sex abuse cases to the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism".

The pope himself "does not admit he is the victim of outside attacks", said Tornielli, but that opinion "is not shared by all of the church."

After all, Tornielli pointed out, it was the future pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who, as the Vatican's chief enforcer, changed the rules to make sure all the abuse cases were dealt with in the Vatican.

Until that point, most of the cases were the responsibility of the local bishops, who tended to hush them up out of fear they would create a scandal.

But the scandal has returned to haunt Ratzinger since he became pope in 2005 and it is now his job to deal with the worst scandal the Catholic Church has experienced in 40 years.

The abuse issue is likely to overshadow the rest of the visit to Britain, with Benedict due to meet a group of 10 victims of abuse on Friday or Saturday in London.

© 2010 AFP

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