THE leader of Scotland's Catholics is to offer a full apology to children abused by priests and say those in the Church who hid evidence have brought "shame on us all".
• Cardinal Keith O'Brien will use his Easter Sunday message to address the child abuse scandal engulfing the Catholic Church. Picture: PA
In an unprecedented move, Cardinal Keith O'Brien will use his Easter Sunday message – the most important of the liturgical year – to address the crisis engulfing the Church around the globe.
In the homily at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, he will restate an apology to "anyone who has suffered any abuse at the hands of anyone representing the Catholic Church".
He will also admit the Church has collectively "not been alert as we should have been" to the "evils" that were perpetrated.
The Church, Cardinal O'Brien, will add, "can take no comfort" from claiming that only a small number of priests abused children. Significantly, he will also concede that the matter has left ordinary Catholics "demoralised and confused".
Last night, a former senior adviser to the Catholic Church in Scotland called on the Bishops' Conference to convene a public commission. The conference is made up of all Scotland's bishops and effectively acts as a cabinet for the Catholic Church in Scotland, making consensus decisions on matters which affect the church in Scotland.
The suggestion is that a public commission should be headed by a High Court judge, to examine the "secret" archives of allegations against priests stretching back decades.
Alan Draper, who chaired a working party on child safety for the Bishops' Conference in 1995, said he was "incensed" by the cardinal's comments and insisted any apology had to be backed by firm action. The cardinal's apology comes with the Church in deep crisis over the scandal of child abuse cover-ups, with Pope Benedict himself facing accusations that he was involved in sweeping evidence under the carpet.
He allegedly failed to take action against American priest Father Lawrence Murphy, who molested up to 200 boys at a deaf school.
The Vatican has taken the unusual step of responding directly to the claims, insisting it did not learn of Murphy's abuse until 20 years after the first allegations emerged, but the claims against the Pope follow a series of revelations that the Church systematically covered up abuse across the United States and Europe.
Last month, the Pope sent a letter to Ireland to apologise after 16 years of clerical cover-ups.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Brien will say: "Crimes against children have indeed been committed and any Catholics who were aware of such crimes and did not act to report them brings shame on us all. We can take no comfort from the fact that only a small percentage of priests committed such crimes – the impact of their sinful acts is very large, their actions harmed the lives of their victims, caused great hatred to be directed at their innocent brother priests and left ordinary Catholics demoralised and confused."
He will add: "One might say that there has been a great public humiliation of the Church as in some way or another we realise that we have not been as alert as we should have been to the evils being perpetrated around us whatever our particular position."
It is understood the cardinal decided to speak out after calls from within the Church in Scotland for him to acknowledge the matter.
He himself has been criticised in recent years over his handling of sex abuse cases. He arranged to pay 42,000 to the victim of Scots priest Desmond Lynagh and then dispatched Lynagh for a course of therapy at a treatment centre.
Only later was the case publicised, after which the priest was sentenced to three years in jail.
Mr Draper, a retired deputy director of social work, said: "Ordinary Catholics are demoralised and confused by the actions of the bishops. That is what they are confused about – how could they let this happen?
"He says, 'Any Catholic who knew about it brings shame on us all'. I think the shame is his and his fellow bishops'."
The Church has been widely criticised over its policy on how to respond to child abuse cases.
Pope Benedict, when still Cardinal Ratzinger, issued an edict in 2001 instructing Catholic bishops around the world to report all child abuse cases to the Vatican under strict secrecy, rather than refer them to the police.
Cardinal O'Brien's comments this weekend appear to concede that the Church's leaders should have informed the police about such cases, rather than tell only their own hierarchy.
Last night, Helen Holland, 51, a former nun who suffered years of sexual and physical abuse at a children's home, Nazareth House in Kilmarnock, run by nuns and priests, said she welcomed the cardinal's apology but added that it did not go far enough.
For the past decade, she has waived her right to anonymity as she worked for support and campaign groups that try to help fellow victims, including the Scottish Government-backed body Survivors Scotland.
Ms Holland said: "They (the Church] have never actively reached out the hand of friendship to survivors and said, 'Let's meet and discuss what happened and what we can do about it'.
"That is what we need more than anything."