Irish Catholic leader apologizes for priest

March 18, 2010|By Henry Chu | Tribune Newspapers

LONDON — — The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland apologized Wednesday for failing to tell police 35 years ago about an abusive priest who went on to molest more children before being convicted and imprisoned.

Amid calls for his resignation, Cardinal Sean Brady expressed regret for his part in a 1975 case in which the church asked two boys to sign oaths of secrecy after they reported being sexually abused. The offending priest, Brendan Smyth, was transferred from parish to parish, where he victimized more children.

Brady told worshippers at a St. Patrick's Day Mass in Northern Ireland that he was ashamed for not upholding "the values that I profess and believe in." But he gave no indication that he would step down, as victims groups and others in Ireland have demanded.

Brady's apology came as the Vatican sought to contain a growing crisis over abuse by priests across Europe. Public anger with the Roman Catholic Church has risen amid allegations of child molestation and beatings in the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, Pope Benedict XVI's homeland.

Nowhere has the outrage been greater than in Ireland, where government-ordered investigations have exposed a pattern of abuse and cover-up involving thousands of children in churches and other religious institutions over several decades.

To assuage the anger, the pope said Wednesday that he would issue a pastoral letter at the end of the week.

"I ask all of you to read it for yourselves with an open heart and in a spirit of faith," the pontiff said. "My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal." The Smyth case has emerged as something of a symbol of the Irish church's shocking response to allegations of abuse. Despite complaints against him as far back as 1975, Smyth was continually reassigned to new parishes and dioceses until the 1990s, when he was finally arrested and convicted of more than 100 counts of abusing children. Smyth died in an Irish prison in 1997.

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