March 17, 2010 / 10:51 AM / 10 years ago

Pope hopes sexual abuse letter will heal wounds

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, facing a spreading scandal of child sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church, said Wednesday he hopes his imminent letter on the problem will “help repentance, healing and renewal.”

Speaking in English to pilgrims and tourists in St Peter’s Square for his general audience, Benedict announced that on Friday he will sign his long-awaited pastoral letter dealing with a massive paedophilia scandal in Ireland.

“As you know, in recent months the Church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis. As a sign of my deep concern I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation,” he said, speaking on St Patrick’s Day.

“I ask all of you to read it for yourselves, with an open heart and in a spirit of faith. My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal,” he said.

It is expected to be released Friday or Saturday, Vatican sources said. Although it will be addressed to the Irish people, the letter is expected to touch on paedophilia in a number of European countries.

The letter, the first papal document devoted exclusively to paedophilia, follows a damning government report on widespread child abuse by priests in Dublin archdiocese.

The Murphy Report, published in November, said the church in Ireland had “obsessively” concealed child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese from 1975 to 2004, and operated a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

SPREADING SCANDAL

In recent weeks, the Vatican has been trying to contain damage as a string of scandals of sexual abuse of children by priests have hit Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

The latest scandal is especially delicate for German-born Benedict, Munich’s bishop from 1977 to 1981.

With public opinion in Germany boiling as more cases of abuse emerge, the vice president of the lower house of parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, called for him to apologise on behalf of those responsible.

Last week the head of Germany’s Catholic Church apologised to victims of child abuse by priests when he came to Rome for a routine visit that was transformed into a crisis management meeting.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, briefed Benedict about the situation in Germany, where more than 100 reports have emerged of abuse at Catholic institutions, including one linked to the prestigious Regensburg choir run by the pope’s brother from 1964 to 1994.

The pope’s former diocese in Bavaria said he was involved in a decision in 1980 to move a priest there who was suspected of child abuse.

The pontiff — then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — jointly agreed to the priest undergoing therapy. However, the diocese’s then vicar general, Gerhard Gruber, assigned him to a Munich parish without restrictions. Gruber took full responsibility for the decision.

Child abuse scandals in the United States about eight years ago wreaked havoc on the reputation and finances of the U.S. Catholic Church , which paid some $2 billion (1.3 billion pounds) in settlements.

Editing by Charles Dick

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