Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has apologised to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. In a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, he acknowledged the sense of betrayal in the Church felt by victims and their families. The Pope said there had been “serious mistakes” among bishops in responding to allegations of paedophilia. The pastoral letter is the first public statement by the Vatican on the sexual abuse of children, dating back decades.

It follows revelations of paedophilia within the Irish Catholic Church, which have rocked the institution. Scandals involving Catholic priests have been reported in other countries, including the Pope’s native Germany.

Addressing the victims of abuse, the Pope wrote: “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry.” He said those guilty of abuse must “answer before God and properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed”. Pope Benedict called for healing, reparation and renewal in the Irish church but essentially his remedy is more prayer, says the BBC’s David Willey in Rome. His letter called for no resignations of bishops, although a few have already volunteered to leave their posts. Although the Pope said Vatican officials would visit Ireland to inspect some dioceses, he did not call for any restructuring of the Church in Ireland.

Victims rights groups demanding an assurance by the Pope that there will be no further cover-ups by his bishops may be disappointed, says our correspondent. The only direct reference to cover-ups is a reference to “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal”.