The Vatican was accused today of not accepting responsibility for its role in the cover-up of the sex abuse of children in Ireland.
Campaigners for survivors of clerical abuse criticised a recommendation from Rome to separate trainee Catholic priests from ordinary students in universities, claiming it would segregate seminaries from the real world.
A new report on the clerical abuse crisis in Ireland found while guidelines to protect children against paedophile priests are being followed, measures must be taken to ensure trainees are properly prepared for the role.
Child protection classes will be introduced for seminarians, who should also have separate living quarters to focus on prayer and finding their priestly identity, it said.
Maeve Lewis of One in Four, which supports survivors of abuse, said separating seminarians from the ordinary world could have an adverse effect.
“One of the things we’ve learned is the need for priests to be more integrated into society to have an understanding,” said Ms Lewis.
“These recommendations would reduce the exposure of seminarians to ordinary life. I think that would be regrettable.”
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin – a campaigner for survivors of abuse and for reform in the church – said the move would not be about locking up the seminarians.
“It isn’t a cloistered life,” he said.
“The seminarians here at St Patrick’s College, for example, spend the vast majority of their time with other students. But in a seminary there must always be that space for prayer and reflection.”
The unprecedented probe, known as an apostolic visitation, was ordered by Pope Benedict two years ago after Ireland was rocked by several reports which unveiled decades of clerical abuse and cover-ups by church and state authorities.
Only a seven-page summary of a report by the visiting senior churchmen was published.
They admitted the shortcomings of the past gave rise to an inadequate understanding of, and reaction to, the abuse of minors, not least by bishops and religious superiors.
“With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively,” they said.
Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said the summary dealt with all the issues without the needless details.
He again apologised to the victims of abuse, adding: “In expressing true sorrow and regret, we make our own heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for these terrible crimes and sins.”
The papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, also said everyone was horrified by the cases of child abuse.
“The only way that we can respond is with an abundance of profound humility. My sense is that the Holy Father himself has exhibited that for us,” he added.
However, Ms Lewis accused the Vatican of still not accepting responsibility for its role in creating the culture of purposeful cover-ups of the sexual abuse of children.
She said it was disappointing Rome did not acknowledge its interventions in the abuse scandal had allowed individual Catholic Church leaders in Ireland to ignore guidelines and to protect the good name of the Church at the expense of the safety of children.
“While we welcome the findings of the visitation that the Irish Church now has good child protection practices in place, we feel it is a lost opportunity to address the role played by the Vatican in perpetuating the policy of protecting abusive priests at the expense of children,” she added.
The churchmen, Cardinals and Archbishops from England, America and Canada, visited four archdiocese as well as seminaries and religious institutes in early 2011.
The report recommended dioceses and religious congregations have an audit of files and monitor the implementation of guidelines set by the church watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
Guidelines should be also devised for clergy accused of abuse but not charged by prosecutors, for those falsely accused who return to ministry, and over the pastoral care and living arrangements of those convicted.
Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she was aware of the ongoing pain and trauma for victims of abuse.
“The lessons of the past are that we can never assume children are being protected,” she said.
“The Catholic Church must continue to discharge its safeguarding responsibilities, including through the important work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.”
Abuse survivor Andrew Madden said he not meet the visiting clergy because he did not believe it would serve any credible purpose.
“I was of the view that instead it would be used by the Vatican to maintain the pretence that the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the subsequent cover up of that abuse by Catholic Bishops was an Irish problem which it knew nothing about, and this is simply not true,” he said.
“Catholic Bishops and Cardinals have been concealing the sexual abuse of children for decades from one side of the world to the other and it is not believable that this was not known in the Vatican.
“With this Summary Report the Vatican has failed yet again to acknowledge and take responsibility for its role in facilitating a culture of cover up which has caused the sexual abuse of so many children. Continued calls for ’forgiveness’ are meaningless in this context.”
Mr Madden said the summary also urges Irish Catholic Bishops to spend more time listening to victims.
“Members of the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and in the Vatican have repeatedly disrespected and ignored the voices and views of those who have been abused and I have no reason to believe that has, or will, change,” he added.
“I said in October 2010 that the Apostolic Visitation is nothing more than self-serving window-dressing nonsense, and nothing I’ve read today has changed my mind.”