Rome: Irish prelates and Pope Benedict XVI met Monday in an extraordinary summit that one bishop called a step toward repentance for Ireland`s history of sex abuse — but the former Dublin altar boy who exposed the scandal doubted that any real housecleaning would result.
Twenty-four bishops went up one by one to the pontiff and kissed his hand in a sign of fraternal respect Monday as the summit began.
The delegation`s top member, Cardinal Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, told Vatican Radio the two-day meeting was part of a "journey of repentance, reconciliation and renewal" for the Irish Church.
But Clogher Bishop Joseph Duffy said resignations were not on the agenda in Rome, despite victims` demands that clerics who played a role in concealing pedophile priests from censure step down.
An investigation last year revealed that church leaders in Dublin had spent decades protecting child-abusing priests from the law while many fellow clerics turned a blind eye. A separate report in Ireland released months earlier documented decades of sexual, physical and psychological abuse in Catholic-run schools, workhouses and orphanages.
The revelations shocked predominantly Catholic Ireland.
The pope`s top aide, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, told the bishops that Benedict had prayed for the success of the summit, called to deal with the "very difficult" crisis in which "some men of the church were involved in particularly abominable deeds."
Yet Andrew Madden, who in 1995 became the first in Ireland to go public with an abuse lawsuit against the church, was pessimistic about prospects that "the pope and the bishops will do what`s required or what`s right."
"It`s clear that most of Ireland`s bishops should go, because they conspired in covering up heinous crimes," Madden told The Associated Press in Ireland. "Most of them will cling to their positions regardless of the anguish this causes the victims."
Benedict asked each bishop where they were from before prayers began the summit and cameras were ushered out of the Apostolic Palace. The meeting continued behind closed doors. Each bishop was speaking with the pope about their views and knowledge of the decades-long abuse of minors by some Irish parish priests and clergy.
On Tuesday, before heading back to Ireland for Ash Wednesday services, the bishops will have one more session with Benedict. The Holy See planned to comment only after the summit ends.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said one point of discussion will be the special pastoral letter that Benedict has promised to send on the abuse scandal. Duffy indicated earlier that the letter`s issuance was not imminent because of the complexity of the scandal.
Victims have been clamoring not only for resignations, including of one of the bishops at the summit, but for the pontiff to quickly accept the offers of three others to step down. They insist the Vatican take clear responsibility for what they call a culture of concealment of abuse.
"For the bishops to say that resignations aren`t on the agenda just compounds the anger and grief of abuse victims," Madden said.
Several Irish bishops have agreed to resign, including two who stepped down on Christmas Day, but others have flatly refused. Among the bishops at the summit is Martin Drennan of Galway, who has insisted he did nothing to endanger children and has rebuffed calls that he step down.
In the Dublin report, investigators determined that a succession of archbishops and senior aides had compiled confidential files on more than 100 parish priests who had sexually abused children since 1940. The files had remained locked in the Dublin archbishop`s private vault.
Abuse victims have accused the pope and his envoy in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, of hiding behind "diplomatic protocols" in refusing to respond to letters from Irish investigators about the extent of abuse and cover-up.
Leanza is a participant at the summit.
The reports follow a campaign by the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, to confront abuse allegations and deal honestly with the cover-up and victims` suffering. Martin, who years ago headed the Holy See`s office on justice, had welcomed the bishops` resignations last year.
Also at the summit was US Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key Vatican office that reviews abuse claims against clergy worldwide.
The pope himself led that office during the years of John Paul II`s papacy, which was stained by an explosion of sex abuse and cover-up scandals in the United States, Australia and other countries.
During pilgrimages to the US and Australia, Benedict has met privately with sex abuse victims. In recent weeks, a new sexual abuse scandal involving Catholic clergy has erupted in Benedict`s homeland of Germany.