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Catholic Church faces more resignations, suits

Pope Benedict accepts the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty, the Vatican says, bringing to three the number of Irish bishops who have stepped down due to the sexual abuse crisis.
Image: Walter Mixa
Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa during a press conference in Freiburg, Germany, in February. Mixa, who has been accused of caning and punching teenaged orphans, handed in his resignation on April 21.  Rolf Haid / EPA file
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty, the Vatican said Thursday, bringing to three the number of Irish bishops who have stepped down due to the sexual abuse crisis.

Moriarty tendered his resignation in December, after an official report named him among Church leaders in the Dublin archdiocese who had covered up cases of child sex abuse by priests for 30 years.

He was auxiliary bishop of Dublin from 1991 until his appointment as bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in 2002.

Hundreds of cases of sexual and physical abuse of youths in recent decades by priests have come to light in Europe and the United States in the last month as disclosures encourage long-silent victims to finally go public with their complaints.

Pope Benedict, under criticism from victims for not taking more energetic steps to counter the sex abuse scandal, pledged Wednesday that the Roman Catholic Church would take action.

In a statement released in Ireland, Moriarty said he was part of the Dublin hierarchy "prior to when correct child protection policies and procedures were implemented."

"I accept that from the time I became an auxiliary bishop, I should have challenged the prevailing culture," he said. "I apologize to all survivors and their families."

Two other bishops named in the report have also offered to resign, but the Vatican has not yet announced any decision in their cases.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the primate of Ireland, has come under heavy pressure to resign because he was involved in having abuse victims sign secrecy agreements decades ago. He has said he would not step down.

In Germany, Augsburg Bishop Walter Mixa offered his resignation Wednesday evening after admitting he physically abused children while a parish priest decades ago.

'Deep shame'
Roman Catholic leaders in Britain also issued an apology Thursday for child abuse by clergy, saying the scandal has brought shame on the church.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the church in England and Wales, said the crimes of some priests were a "profound scandal" that "bring deep shame to the whole church."

He expressed the church's "heartfelt apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed."

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the country's top clergyman was accused in a new lawsuit of ignoring two decades of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest and of conspiring to shuttle him between the United States and Mexico to avoid arrest.

The case, filed on Tuesday in a California court, is being brought by an anonymous man who says he was raped in 1997 as a 12-year-old in Mexico by a priest accused of numerous abuse charges in both countries.

The lawsuit claims Cardinal Norberto Rivera knew about the priest's history of abuse and protected him from prosecution, allowing him to continue as a practicing priest until he was defrocked last year.

The priest, Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, was first accused of sodomizing boys in 1987 when the cardinal was a high-level bishop. Aguilar Rivera was beaten up in a small town in Mexico by parishioners who accused him of sleeping with boys in his chambers, the lawsuit says.

Cardinal Rivera has won similar lawsuits against him in the United States in the past since the crimes he is accused of overlooking occurred in Mexico.

Mexico is home to the world's second-largest Catholic population after Brazil.

'I ask ... forgiveness'
Pope Benedict — who has come under fire from victims' groups for using vague language to address the accusations in the United States, Austria, his native Germany and elsewhere — on Wednesday promised Church "action" to counter the scandal.

Germany's Mixa said he would cooperate fully with investigators and offered an apology.

"I ask the forgiveness of all those to whom I may have been unfair and to those who I may have caused heartache," Mixa wrote, acknowledging that he was "fully aware of my own weaknesses."

Mixa has been accused of hitting children while a priest decades ago. He initially denied ever using violence against youngsters, but later acknowledged he may have slapped children.

Although the case does not involve any allegations of sexual abuse, Mixa has been a key member of Germany's Bishops Conference for more than a decade and his initial denial of physical violence fueled frustration among German Catholics that the church appeared to be unwilling to come clean on the issue of abuse.

Adding to Mixa's troubles, a special investigator has found financial irregularities at a children's home under his responsibility around the same time as the allegations of abuse.

Mixa said in his letter he would support efforts for a "thorough investigation" into all the allegations.

On Wednesday, the head of the national bishops' conference had urged Mixa to take leave until the allegations are cleared up, German media reported.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said he had several phone conversations with Mixa in recent days to discuss "how to contribute to calming down the current difficult situation in the Augsburg diocese," according to the DDP news agency.