Irish cardinal apologizes for hiding abuse

Ireland's senior Catholic Church cardinal has offered an apology for his handling of a case involving an abusive priest decades ago.

Ireland's senior Catholic Church cardinal on Wednesday offered an apology for his handling of a case involving an abusive priest decades ago, and said he doesn't know what his future holds.

Cardinal Sean Brady appears after mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland, on Wednesday. Ireland's most senior Roman Catholic cleric apologized for his part in concealing child sex abuse 35 years ago. ((Peter Morrison/Associated Press))

Cardinal Sean Brady was a priest in 1975 when abuse allegations were raised against another priest, Brendan Smyth. At a meeting at that time, Brady asked two victims — boys aged 10 and 14 — to sign letters agreeing they would remain silent. The church did not share the information with police.

It was about two decades before Smyth was eventually convicted of abusing children.

"This week a painful episode from my own past has come before me," Brady said in Armagh, Northern Ireland, during his St. Patrick's Day mass. "I have listened to reaction from people to my role in events 35 years ago.

"I want to say to anyone who has been hurt by any failure on my part that I apologize to you with all my heart," Brady said during his mass. "I also apologize to all those who feel I have let them down."

The revelations have led to pressure on Brady to consider resigning. He has said he would only step down if asked by the Pope.

An investigation revealed in 2009 that church leaders had protected Irish priests suspected of sexually abusing children.

The report on the scandal accused church leaders of "obsessively" hiding child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese for decades.

A separate report in Ireland had been released months earlier documenting sexual, physical and psychological abuse in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanage.

The abuse — and its subsequent coverup — is estimated to have run from the 1930s to the 1990s and involved more than 15,000 children.

In other developments Wednesday related to the sex scandal, the Pope is hoping his pending letter to Irish Catholics about abuse in the church will help with "repentance, healing and renewal."

The Irish church has been "severely shaken" by the crisis, the pontiff said in English, adding that he was "deeply concerned."

Pope Benedict XVI made the comments during his weekly general audience.

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

The Pope is expected to sign the letter on Friday before it is sent to Irish Catholics.

Merkel speaks out

Benedict did not address abuse allegations in Germany and elsewhere.

In her first public comments on the abuse scandal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the damage suffered by abuse victims cannot be fully repaired.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at the German parliament in Berlin on Wednesday, called sex abuse 'despicable' and said the truth about it should be pursued. ((Michael Sohn/Associated Press))
"I think that we all agree that sexual abuse of minors is a despicable crime and the only way for our society to come to terms with it is to look for the truth and find out everything that has happened," Merkel told the German parliament. 

People alleging abuse by church officials have been surfacing across Germany, and the allegations have included the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir, which was led for three decades by Rev. Georg Ratzinger, the Pope's brother.

On Monday, the old diocese of the Pope suspended a priest who was convicted in 1986 of sexually abusing minors. The church also accepted the resignation of the priest's superior.

The archdiocese of Munich and Freising suspended the priest, who has been identified only as Rev. H., after he violated the condition that he not work with youth. The Pope served as archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1986 before he went to Rome.

With files from The Associated Press