17 Feb 2010

Pope condemns abuse of children by priests

6:07 am on 17 February 2010

The Vatican says the Pope has told Irish Roman Catholic bishops that sexual abuse of children by priests is a heinous crime.

Pope Benedict XVI has summoned the 24 bishops to Rome to discuss their response to a child sex abuse scandal.

In his first comments issued since the meetings began on Monday, the Pope said Irish bishops have to face the scandal with courage and resolve.

The Vatican also said that the Irish bishops promised to co-operate with civil authorities.

In a report last year, the Irish Church admitted covering up abuse for decades.

Two state-ordered reports revealed how abuse was rife in many Catholic-run children's institutions in the Republic of Ireland, and how priests who were accused of abuse were just moved by bishops to new parishes.

Investigators found that Church officials compiled confidential files on more than 100 parish priests accused of sexual abuse, but that the files were kept secret.

Victims of abuse by Irish priests have written a letter to the Pope calling for the resignation of bishops "who engaged in this culture of cover-up".

The BBC reports four bishops have already offered their resignations - though only one has been formally accepted.