Vatican City Heads are starting to roll in the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal.
Weeks after Europe awoke to reports of clerical sex abuse in its own backyard, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation Thursday of an Irish bishop who acknowledged failing to report abuse to police, while a German bishop also offered to step down.
The developments appeared to be part of a new strategy by the Vatican of getting rid of bishops who sought to protect the church from scandal rather than safeguard children.
Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare is the third Irish bishop to step down since December; two more Irish bishops have offered to resign and the pope is expected to agree. There are also mounting calls for the country’s top prelate, Cardinal Sean Brady, to leave because of his handling of the case of a notorious child rapist.
The German prelate, Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, was accused of hitting children decades ago when he was a priest, as well as financial irregularities at a Catholic orphanage where he served — allegations he denied for weeks before admitting he may have slapped children.
Although he was not accused of sexual abuse, the case against Mixa, a prominent member of Germany’s Bishops Conference, focused more negative attention on a German church already shaken by scandal.
Hundreds of people have come forward in recent months, including in Benedict’s native Germany, accusing priests of raping and abusing them while bishops and other church higher-ups turned a blind eye.
Victims advocates were not impressed with Thursday’s actions, saying a handful of resignations of low-level bishops carries no moral weight when the senior Catholic leadership, including Benedict, has been complicit in cover-ups but has never taken responsibility.
“When both the pope and Cardinal Brady have been implicated in protecting sex offenders, does the resignation of individual bishops contribute to the protection of children?” asked Maeve Lewis, director of One in Four, an Irish lobbying group for child-abuse victims.
“When the most senior churchmen consistently deny responsibility for their failures, can we have any confidence that the culture of secrecy has changed?”
The most prominent resignation to date in the United States was Cardinal Bernard Law as Boston archbishop, who stepped down after the U.S. scandal exploded in 2002.
On Wednesday, Benedict promised “church action” to confront the scandal, and the Vatican has said it will do everything in its power to bring justice to abusive priests and implement “effective measures” to protect children.
The Vatican recently posted guidelines on its website instructing bishops to report abuse to police when civil laws require it. The Vatican insists that has long been church policy, though it had never been explicitly written before.