Pope Benedict XVI has rejected the resignations of two Irish bishops who came under heavy pressure to step down in the wake of a damning report on clerical sex abuse in Dublin, Irish media reports said Wednesday.
Auxiliary bishops Raymond Field and Eamonn Walsh tendered their resignations in December after a government-backed investigation found evidence of widespread cover-ups involving cases of priestly abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese from the 1970s through the 1990s. The report caused an uproar in Ireland and deepened public disillusionment with the once-dominant Roman Catholic Church.
But in a letter seen by Irish news outlets, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin informed fellow clerics that the Vatican had decided not to accept the two bishops’ offers to step down. Instead, the pair would be “assigned revised responsibilities within the diocese,” the letter said, without specifying what those new duties would be.
The Vatican’s decision was swiftly denounced by victims groups as further proof that the church is more interested in protecting its own than atoning for past sins.
“By this move, the pope has done irreparable damage to the already deeply damaged image of a selfish church hierarchy,” Barbara Blaine, the president of the U.S.-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement.
She warned that the Vatican’s decision would send a dangerous message: “Even widespread documentation of the concealing of child sex crimes and the coddling of criminals won’t cost you your job in the church.”
The report released in November, which drew on thousands of previously secret church documents, concluded that bishops in Dublin failed to inform the police about dozens of priests suspected of pedophilia and that the church systematically hushed up the alleged abuse of hundreds of children.
Field and Walsh, who were bishops during the period covered by the investigation, initially resisted calls to step aside but eventually relented, saying they were sorry for their actions and expressing hope that their resignations would bring “peace and reconciliation” to victims.
In the fallout after the report, however, the pope did accept the resignations of two other Irish bishops. The Vatican declined to comment Wednesday on why it decided differently in the case of Field and Walsh.
In March, the pope issued an unusual pastoral letter to Ireland’s Catholics apologizing for the widespread abuse of children in churches and church-run institutions. He chastised bishops for “failures of leadership” but dismayed critics by failing to take disciplinary action against them.