A top Vatican prelate told Irish bishops at an extraordinary Vatican summit with Pope Benedict XVI Monday they must admit their own blame in cover-ups of generations of sex abuse of minors, or risk losing the faith of Ireland's Catholics.
But the former Dublin altar boy who helped expose the scandal doubted that any real hierarchy housekeeping would result from the two days of talks behind closed doors in the Apostolic Palace.
Benedict's top aide, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, delivered a stinging homily at a Mass before the talks decrying the "particularly abhorrent deeds" of some in the Irish church hierarchy, although he didn't name any names.
Bertone, the Vatican's No. 2 who participated in the summit with 24 bishops from Irish dioceses, likened the crisis to a "most dangerous storm, that which touches the heart of believers, shaking their faith and threatening their ability to trust in God."
To restore faith, "sinners must acknowledge their own blame in the fullness of truth," urged Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of state. He worried that the evil could push faithful toward "discouragement and desperation."
A state report last year found that church leaders in Dublin had spent decades protecting child-abusing priests from the law while many fellow clerics pretended not to see. A separate inquiry documented decades of sexual, physical and psychological abuse or children and teens in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanages.
Bishops kissed the pope in a fraternal gesture of respect before cameras were ushered out. The Vatican won't comment before the summit ends Tuesday nor has it released Benedict's remarks at the sessions, which began in the morning and ran into the evening.
The bishops made themselves unavailable for comment. Irish bishops conference spokesman Martin Long said the bishops had chosen to stay at a guest house within Vatican City's walls so they could better "focus" on the crisis talks.
The delegation's top member, Cardinal Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, described the talks as a first step on a journey toward "penitence, renewal and reconciliation."
Bertone called for "humility" from the bishops. But Clogher Bishop Joseph Duffy had already said resignations were not on summit agenda, defying victims' demands that clerics who involved in protecting pedophile priests step down.
That made Andrew Madden, who in 1995 became the first in Ireland to go public with an abuse lawsuit against the church, pessimistic.
"It's clear that most of Ireland's bishops should go, because they conspired in covering up heinous crimes," Madden told The Associated Press in Ireland. "Most of them will cling to their positions regardless of the anguish this causes the victims."
A U.S. lobby of clergy sex abuse victims echoed Madden's lack of expectations.
"Does anyone honestly think that the very same men who ignored and concealed child sex crimes for decades can or will do a sudden and complete 180-degree turnaround and suddenly be part of the solution?" said Barbara Dorris, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
In a statement, Dorris said Bertone failed to denounce "a centuries-old, deeply-rooted culture of self-serving secrecy perpetuated by a rigid, ancient, all-male monarchy."
Madden said the pope, in a letter he has promised to direct to the Irish people, must fully and explicitly accept the findings of the two Irish-government ordered probes of how Catholic officials got away with abusing tens of thousands of children since the 1930s in a country where the church was once a pillar of everyday existence.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the summit will discuss the pope's letter.
Each bishop had several minutes to tell the pope what he thought or knew about the concealment practices.
Victims have been clamoring not only for resignations, but for the pontiff to quickly accept resignations already offered. They insist the Vatican take clear responsibility for what they call a culture of concealment of abuse.
"For the bishops to say that resignations aren't on the agenda just compounds the anger and grief of abuse victims," Madden said.
Several Irish bishops have agreed to resign, including two who stepped down on Christmas Day, but others have flatly refused, including Martin Drennan of Galway, who has insisted he did nothing to endanger children and has rebuffed calls that he step down. Drennan came to the summit.
In the Dublin report, investigators determined that a succession of archbishops and senior aides had compiled confidential files on more than 100 parish priests who had sexually abused children for decades. The files had remained locked in the Dublin archbishop's private vault.
At the summit was the papal envoy in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, who, along with the pope, victims contend, hid behind "diplomatic protocols" in refusing to respond to letters from Irish investigators about the extent of abuse and cover-up.
The reports follow a campaign by the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, to confront abuse allegations and deal honestly with the cover-up and victims' suffering.
John Paul II's papacy was stained by an explosion of sex abuse and cover-up scandals in the United States, Australia and other countries.
During pilgrimages to the U.S. and Australia, Benedict has met privately with sex abuse victims. In recent weeks, a new sexual abuse scandal involving Catholic clergy has erupted in Benedict's homeland of Germany.
AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this report from Dublin.
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