Apparently a thoroughly devastating report on clerical sexual and physical abuse of Irish children and attempts to cover it up by the Irish hierarchy has been gruesome enough to draw an unprecedented response from Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict met with "senior Irish bishops and high-ranking members of the Roman Curia" this morning before issuing a statement expressing his personal regret and shame because of the experience of the irish people at the hands of their own pastors:
"After careful study of the report, the Holy Father was deeply disturbed and distressed by its contents. He wishes once more to express his profound regret at the actions of some members of the clergy who have betrayed their solemn promises to God, as well as the trust placed in them by the victims and their families, and by society at large.
"The Holy Father shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland, and he is united with them in prayer at this difficult time in the life of the Church.
"His Holiness asks Catholics in Ireland and throughout the world to join him in praying for the victims, their families and all those affected by these heinous crimes."
Benedict promises a pastoral letter to the Irish people "in which he will clearly indicate the initiatives that are to be taken in response to the situation."
After his 90-minute meeting with the Pope, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin soberly noted that a "significant reorganisation of the Church in Ireland" was likely. The Irish Times is reporting that the bishop of Limerick Dr. Dónal Murray is expected withi days to offer his resignation to Pope Benedict.
Benedict was busy today. He also met for the first time with Nguyen Minh Triet, president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, what the Vatican described as a significant step toward. The meeting was described as cordial but the relationship between the Vietnamese government and Vietnam's Catholics has been far from that. The Catholic population in Vietnam is the second largest, behind the Philippines, in Southeast Asia.
Religion remains under state control in Vietnam and the issue of church properties seized after the end of French rule in 1954 has been an unresolved sore point between the church and government in Vietnam, sporadically flaring up into serious confrontation. A Catholic priest, Nguyen Van Ly, jailed for eight years in 2007 for "spreading propaganda against the communist state," is in poor health. His release would be an indication of how serious the Vietnamese communists are about these recent steps toward rapprochement with the church.