Irish clergy sex abuse 'heinous crime': Pope

Pope Benedict XVI urged Irish clergy to be courageous in confronting the pedophile priest scandal that has rocked the church.
Pope Benedict XVI meets with Irish bishops at the Vatican on Monday. ((Osservatore Romano/Associated Press))

Pope Benedict XVI urged Irish clergy to be courageous in confronting the pedophile priest scandal that has rocked the church, but he took no action on victims' demands that he force bishops to resign, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The Vatican statement came as the Pope and 24 Irish bishops ended a meeting on the crisis meant to restore the trust of Irish Catholics shaken by revelations of decades of clergy sex abuse and coverup.

The Pope "shares the outrage" over the abuse and has "already expressed profound regret," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said after the summit.

Asked if the issue of resignations came up, Lombardi said "it was not addressed."

Lombardi also defended the pope's representative in Ireland for refusing to testify to lawmakers there about systematic coverups by church hierarchy.

In the news release, the Pope called the sexual abuse of children "a heinous crime" and a "grave sin which offends God."

Irish activists seek apology

Benedict's top aide, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, welcomed the bishops to the Vatican on Monday with a stern call for sinners among their ranks to "acknowledge their own blame in the fullness of truth."

The summit was also called to help the pontiff prepare a special letter to the Irish people apologizing for church failures to protect thousands of children.

The Pope is scheduled to complete that letter and issue it during Lent, a 46-day holy season that begins Wednesday.

Irish activists are demanding much more, including resignations of all bishops who failed to inform police about reports of pedophile priests. They also demand that the Pope accept in full the findings of the Irish investigations, which some church officials in Ireland have criticized as unfair.