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Pope apologizes for child abuse within Irish church

DUBLIN - Pope Benedict XVI's unprecedented letter to Ireland apologizing for chronic child abuse within the Catholic Church failed yesterday to calm the anger of many victims, who accused the Vatican of ducking its own responsibility in promoting a worldwide culture of cover-up.

Benedict's message - the product of weeks of consultation with Irish bishops, who read it aloud at Masses - rebuked Ireland's church leaders for "grave errors of judgment" in failing to observe the church's secretive canon laws.

The pope, who himself stands accused of approving the transfer of an accused priest for treatment rather than informing German police during his 1977-82 term as Munich archbishop, suggested child-abusing priests could have been expelled quickly had Irish bishops applied the church's own laws correctly. He pledged a church inspection of unspecified Irish dioceses and orders to ensure their child-protection policies were effective.

He also appealed to priests still harboring sins of child molestation to confess. "Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy," he wrote.

But Benedict offered no endorsement of three official Irish investigations that blamed church leadership for the scale and longevity of abuse heaped on Irish children throughout the 20th century. The probes directed by senior Irish judges and lawyers, ruled that Catholic leaders protected the church's reputation at the expense of children - and began passing their first abuse reports to police in 1996 only after victims began to sue the church.

Nor did Benedict's letter mention recent revelations of abuse cover-ups in Europe, particularly his German homeland.

Victims' advocates in Ireland and the United States said the pope again failed to make clear whether the church considers secular law a higher priority than canon law when seeking to stop a pedophile priest. The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope's letter contained no punitive provisions because it was pastoral, not administrative or disciplinary in nature.

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