VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI told Irish bishops at a special summit meeting Tuesday to be courageous in confronting the pedophile priest scandal that has rocked that Catholic nation's church, but took no action on victims' demands the Vatican take some responsibility.
Specifically, bishops said the pope didn't rule on whether to accept the resignations offered by several bishops for their role in decades of concealment or push for resignations from those resisting calls to step down.
The two-day, closed-door meeting bringing together the pope, top Vatican officials and 24 Irish bishops was called to restore the trust of Irish Catholics shaken by revelations of decades of clergy sex abuse and cover-up.
"While realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, (Benedict) challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage," according to a Vatican statement.
Within hours ago, activists troubled by what they contend is a pattern of Vatican denial of responsibility were branding the talks a failure.
"It's heartbreaking that the resignation of callous, deceptive bishops wasn't even discussed at this meeting," said Barbara Blaine, head of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope "shares the outrage" over the abuse and noted he had "already expressed profound regret," but that the issue of resignations "was not addressed."
Irish Church leader Cardinal Sean Brady told reporters that one bishop who has bucked demands to resign, Martin Drennan of Galway, "has made his position clear" and that the summit wasn't meant to sway him.
Victims had already warned the talks would be a failure unless the pope demanded resignations of bishops who had any role in concealing wrongdoing. 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.
Pressed by reporters whether there was any admission by the Vatican at the summit that Rome shared in the responsibility of what victims call a "culture of concealment," Brady ventured that the summit, "with all that time in listening and responding would indicate some degree of responsibility" is felt by the Vatican.
But the Vatican's statement, while noting that Benedict called the sexual abuse of children "a heinous crime," only spoke of the "failure of Irish church authorities for many years to act effectively" in cases of sexual abuse of young people by Irish clergy and religious.
Ireland's bishops, while brushing off reporters' suggestions they were somehow scapegoats for the Vatican's policies aimed at looking after its clergy, seemed intent at looking for blame in the Irish church hierarchy.
"We are coming from a culture of secrecy and confidentiality, which was admittedly overemphasized in the past," said Clogher Bishop Joseph Duffy.
During the summit, anger flared in Ireland over the refusal of papal envoy Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza to appear in the Irish parliament.
Lombardi defended Leanza, saying the envoy was simply following rules about diplomatic privilege. "If this is not part of his duty, you can't expect him" to testify, he said.
Later, bishops said the Vatican was worried that having the pope's diplomatic representatives answer to lawmakers would set a dangerous precedent.
"It would be very difficult to have (Leanza's) grilling in front of a parliamentary committee," Bishop Brendan Kelly of Achonry said.
Leanza has faced heavy criticism in Ireland for ignoring letters from two state-ordered investigations into how the church suppressed reports of child abuse by parish priests and in Catholic-run residences for poor children.
Lombardi said the pope would send Irish faithful a letter about the crisis during Lent, the period of penitence, which ends this year on April 4, Easter Sunday.
Bishops said the letter will address the victims.
Asked if the pope would meet with victims either at the Vatican or on some future trip to Ireland, Ferns Bishop Denis Brennan replied: "I'm sure he'll be ready to meet victims in Ireland when the time is right."
In their meeting with Benedict, "the bishops spoke frankly of their sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused," according to the Vatican statement.
The bishops were heading back to their homeland in time to lead Ash Wednesday services.
Brady said Irish church leaders needed to do penitence for the scandal that would be "the equivalent of sackcloth and ashes" and have a "change of heart."