At the conclusion of meetings between Pope Benedict XVI, 24 Irish bishops and senior members of the Roman Curia, the Vatican released a general statement describing the nature of the discussions. The Holy Father cited a lack of respect for the human person and a weakening of faith within the Irish Church as significantly contributing to the sexual abuse of minors.
The meetings, which took place on Monday and Tuesday, addressed the "serious situation" in the Irish Catholic Church revealed by the Ryan and Murphy reports. The reports documented sexual abuse of minors by clergy and the efforts to cover up the abuse by some of the Church's hierarchy.
The failure of Church authorities to act effectively in dealing with the situation was examined in the meetings, and participants in the discussions unanimously agreed 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."
Each of the 24 bishops was given the floor to express his individual concerns and hear feedback from the Holy Father and the members of the Roman Curia. Bishops said in a press conference later that this gave the discussions a "synod-like” feel.
The Vatican communique report that the bishops voiced "the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused" and a "similar sense of outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious in this regard."
Pope Benedict was quoted in the Vatican statement as saying that child sexual abuse is a "heinous" crime, and moreover, "a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image."
The statement also presented the Holy Father's observation that a "weakening of faith" significantly contributed to the phenomenon of pedophilia in the country and affirmed that there was a "more general crisis of faith affecting the Church." These crises, the Pope said, are rooted in a “lack of respect for the human person."
Pope Benedict urged the Irish bishops to commit to further theological reflection on this lack of respect and called for better all-around preparation for candidates to the priesthood and religious life and existing clergy and religious.
For now, the Holy Father urged the bishops to confront problems of the past with determination and resolve and to be honest and courageous in addressing the present crisis.
He voiced his hope that this week's meetings would lead them to be unified in establishing concrete steps meant to heal the abused, encourage a renewal of faith and restore the Church's spiritual and moral credibility.
The content of a Pastoral Letter from Pope Benedict to the Irish faithful was discussed in the meetings and can be expected during the Lenten season.