Benedict’s letter on sexual abuse, addressed to the Church in Ireland, has disappointed almost everyone.

Confession that is a requirement of repentance involves confessing the whole truth and a desire to make reparation.

Benedict makes some dubious assertions, half-truths at best. He claims that a misunderstanding of Vatican II led to a neglect of the penal aspects of the code of canon law. This may have happened, but what explains the toleration of abuse before Vatican II? From the American cases I have read the usual response of a bishop before Vatican II was to pawn an abusive priest off on an unsuspecting bishop, who was then stuck with him

The sexual liberation of the 1960s seems to have led to an increase of abuse cases; but this may be an illusion of reporting. Victims in older cases may have died and the files of abusive priests were generally destroyed on the death of the abuser. And terrible abuse occurred before the 1960s, and later abuser were trained in pre-1960s seminaries.

Benedict acknowledges the failures of the bishops – but proposes no consequences for them. Cardinal Law remains a cardinal and serves on important dicasteries – all of these at the pleasure of the pope.

And Benedict totally ignores any Vatican responsibility in the toleration of abuse.

At the very least, it was clear that the bureaucratic requirements of sending as case to the Vatican were daunting to many bishops. The Vatican returned cases so that every i would be dotted and every t crossed. Bishops got the clear impression that the Vatican did not want to see these cases. Was the impression mistaken?

Cases were also surrounded by pontifical secrecy. That is, anyone who revealed any aspect of the trial would be excommunicated. The Vatican now claims this was not intended to prevent church authorities from reporting abuse to state agencies. But it certainly had that effect. Again, American (and other) bishops and chancery officials got the impression that the Vatican did not want them to make abuse cases public. Was this impression inadvertent and mistaken? I do not think so. The Vatican’s desire to maintain a bella figura is well know, and I have not seen one scrap of evidence that bishops were ever asked if they had fulfilled their legal duty (in some states) to report abuse. In fact, Msgr. Scicluna’s recent remarks make it clear that the Vatican does not want bishops to report abusive priests to state authorities unless the bishops are legally required to do so.

The Code of Canon Law also has no consideration for victims. This was a lack, and I have seen no attempts to correct it.

In the most generous interpretation, the Vatican inadvertently contributed to the toleration of sexual abuse. Benedict should have acknowledged at least that, but he did not do so. Either he is maintaining a willful blindness about the Vatican’s own responsibility in tolerating abuse, or he fears that acknowledging responsibility would open up the Vatican to lawsuits.

There has been no full confession; therefore there is no true repentance.

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