March 20th, 2012
10:17 AM ET
By Richard Allen Greene and Peter Taggart, CNN
(CNN) - The Vatican begged forgiveness from Irish victims of child sexual abuse by priests as it released a major report into the problem Tuesday, but victims responded with anger and disbelief at the report's finding that new safeguards are working.
"With a great sense of pain and shame, it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community, innocent young people were abused by clerics," a high-level Catholic Church committee found.
"Those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively," the committee found.
"For these faults, forgiveness must once more be asked: from God and from the victims!" the commission of top church leaders said.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, echoed those words Tuesday.
"In expressing true sorrow and regret, we make our own the heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for these terrible crimes and sins," he said.
But activists for survivors of abuse said the report did not go nearly far enough.
"In a very, very small way in the summary they acknowledge the fact that damage has been done by what they call 'the problem' of the abuse of minors," said Jon McCourt of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse.
But, he added, "the church could have used Ireland as a beacon of light and hope for victims of institutional and clerical abuse across the world. And it looks like the opportunity has been missed."
And a U.S.-based group dismissed the report as "another tired, ineffective re-hash of the promises made by U.S. bishops a decade ago, promises that have had little impact on this crisis."
"No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive all-male monarchy with a horrific history of ignoring and concealing child sex crimes," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
She said internal reports were "nearly meaningless," and argued that "self-serving Catholic officials can't police or reform themselves," so secular authorities should do so.
"That's the real remedy - increase the will and the ability of independent professionals in law enforcement and the judiciary to investigate, expose, punish and deter child sex crimes and cover-ups," she said.
The Vatican suggests in its report Tuesday that the problem is largely in the past.
"Beginning in the 1990s, decisive progress has been made, leading to a greater awareness of the problem and profound changes in the way of addressing it," the report said.
Guidelines dating from 2008 "have proved to be an effective instrument for handling accusations of abuse and for increasing the awareness of the entire Christian community in the area of child protection," it continued.
"Much attention and care has been shown to the victims, both in terms of spiritual and psychological assistance and also from a legal and financial standpoint," the report said.
The investigators make a number of recommendations, including suggesting that seminaries do more to prepare candidates for the priesthood for "a life of priestly celibacy."
They also recommend that the Irish Church develop guidelines for what to do with priests who have been accused of abuse but whom authorities have declined to prosecute.
And they advise that procedures be put in place to help those falsely accused and then cleared of abuse, and where to house those who are convicted of abuse.
Pope Benedict XVI set up the investigation, formally known as an Apostolic Visitation, in response to a series of independent reports that found thousands of Irish children had been physically or sexually abused by Catholic clergy over several decades.
Confronted with accusations of abuse, bishops tended to move abusive priests to new parishes, the Irish government-backed reports found.
The most recent one, known as the Cloyne report, found that abuse and cover-ups continued well after the scandal broke, and after safeguards were established by the Catholic Church in Ireland.
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