Cardinal Desmond Connell has said that at various times in the past, the Irish church thought it had the correct formula to respond to the problem of sexual abuse by priests and religious. Subsequently he said it had discovered its understanding of the problem and its response to it were less than adequate. In a lengthy letter to the capital's one million Catholics, read at at all Masses at the weekend, the cardinal said it was "a deeply troubled time for the church" but pledged it would "take whatever further action is necessary". "We are all of us, people, priests and bishops, affected by what has happened in these past weeks and I am deeply aware of the damage that can be done to your confidence in the church, to which you have been so faithful, and even to your faith itself," he said. The cardinal said it was in the interests of all, that anyone abused by a priest or religious should speak up. "Only when we have full knowledge about what we are dealing with can we be sure that we have put in place all the necessary structures and procedures to respond as best as we can now and prevent recurrence in the future," he said. "Only those who have suffered this terrible outrage can fully understand what is involved in revisiting what was done to them, and exposing the trauma over again in the glare of publicity. We are so much in their debt for the courage and perseverance they have shown in doing this." "We must acknowledge that they have too often had to do it in the face of quite inadequate responses on the part of the Church. At various moments in the past, we thought we were dealing appropriately with the problem, only to find that we had underestimated its nature and its scale. "Clearly, we have learned much about this issue in the most recent years. The learning process has been painful and it is regrettable that so much of the learning has come only through the testimony of the victims themselves." The Cardinal said the Irish bishops had set up an advisory committee in 1994 to devise a framework for dealing with a problem "the full impact and scope of which we were only then beginning to grasp." Individual bishops dealing with cases in their own dioceses had done so on a case by case basis, "with a very imperfect understanding of what they were dealing with and without the benefit of structures and procedures to assist them." The advisory committee's guidelines published in 1996 meant that such structures and procedures were now in place, he said. "In accordance with the guidelines, in all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest, the matter is reported to the senior ranking police officer for the area in which the abuse is alleged to have occurred. "An advisory panel of experts, including a psychiatrist, a child care specialist, a guidance counsellor, a canon lawyer and priest's representative, assists in the process of dealing with any cases of child sexual abuse by priests which is reported." Cardinal Connell cited other measures taken to address the problem, such as the establishment of a Child Protection Office, an independent diocese-by-diocese audit of how child sexual abuse cases were handled and the appointment of a retired judge to chair the Bishops' Committee on Child Protection. "I believe that we have moved on from the incomprehension of the past, " said Dr Connell. "We must not be resentful of the burdens we have inherited from the past but have confidence that our current practice will ensure a far better future. "This is in many ways a dark hour for the Church in Ireland and, as we know, not in Ireland alone. "But the guarantee of Jesus that he would be with his Church always has not been withdrawn. We can be confident that we will encounter him walking with us on the journey. "Though words can help, it is above all actions that are required. We have taken action. We will take whatever further action is necessary. "There can be no flinching in the face of our duty, required as a matter of human integrity and Christian truth." Cardinal Connell concluded by reiterating "deep regret for the inadequacies with which this matter has been dealt with in the diocese, above all, because of the added suffering this has caused victims but also because of the pain it has caused all of you and the huge difficulty this issue has created for the vast majority of wonderfully faithful and unselfish priests who have remained true to their vocation through thick and thin."
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