DUBLIN (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI has been "relentless and consistent" in seeking to oust child abusers from the priesthood worldwide, the pontiff's new American envoy to Ireland said Sunday in his first homily here.
Archbishop Charles Brown, a 52-year-old Manhattan native and veteran Vatican insider, was making his first public address since officially taking up his post as Irish papal nuncio three days ago.
"From the beginning, Pope Benedict was resolute and determined to put into place changes which would give the church the ability to deal more effectively with those who abuse trust. ... Pope Benedict has been relentless and consistent on this front," Brown told worshippers and diplomatic guests at a service at Dublin's Pro-Cathedral.
The first-time diplomat faces a delicate repair job in Ireland, a traditionally Catholic nation that has seen Mass attendance plummet in line with nearly two decades of pedophile-priest scandals.
Last year Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Vatican of overseeing a cover-up culture that encouraged the rape of children. The Vatican took two months to issue a legalistic rebuttal that sidestepped its refusal to help a series of Irish state-ordered investigations.
Ireland then closed its Vatican embassy but insisted this was purely a cost-cutting measure, a claim widely disbelieved in Ireland since the country's ongoing struggle to stave off national bankruptcy.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, widely considered to be Ireland's most reform-minded Catholic leader, told reporters he expected that Ireland and the Vatican would compromise on arrangements to open a new, cheaper Irish embassy in Rome. Ireland still operates one embassy in the Italian capital, but the Vatican insists that countries fund completely separate diplomatic facilities.
Speaking to reporters outside the cathedral, Martin said he was confident that the Vatican would permit Ireland to open "a leaner embassy" that is separate but on the same site as Ireland's Italian embassy.
In his homily, Brown reiterated the Vatican's longheld line that its leaders have never obstructed Irish efforts to identify and punish several hundred child abusers in parishes and religious orders.
Brown noted his own 17-year work as an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican body that enforces church policies — including the removal of pedophiles from the priesthood. Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, oversaw the body from 1981 until his promotion to pope in 2005.
"I speak from my own experience when I tell you that Pope Benedict was scandalized and dismayed as he learned about the tragedy of abuse perpetrated by some members of the clergy and of religious congregations," Brown said. "He felt deeply the wounds of those who had been harmed and who so often had not been listened to."
Ratzinger in 2001 was responsible for a new church edict ordering bishops worldwide to forward all known abuse cases to the congregation, so that offending priests could be more effectively defrocked under terms of the church's own canon laws.
But that and several other key church messages, including the pope's 2010 papal letter to the Irish people, have ignored accusations that Vatican policies discouraged Irish bishops from telling police about crimes. To this day, official Vatican policy remains ambiguous on the matter, stressing the need to observe the church's own rulebook.
A decade of Irish fact-finding commissions into the scandals has determined that church officials did not tell police of any crimes until the mid-1990s and only because Irish abuse victims had started to sue the church, challenging decades of Irish deference to church authority. One bishop was found to have continued to cover up crimes as recently as 2008.
The Vatican refused to respond to letters sent by Irish investigators seeking access to the church's secret files on abuse cases in Rome. The Vatican later said it couldn't respond because the investigators had failed to file their information requests through the Irish government.
More than 14,000 people have received abuse settlements in Ireland exceeding euro1.2 billion ($1.6 billion). The payouts have been funded largely by taxpayers rather than the church, another source of continuing church-state tensions.