Pope Francis reached out to the victims of sexual abuse, saying he “acknowledges once more the suffering” and abuse of power and conscience by a “significant number of clerics and consecrated persons”.
In a letter published on Monday, Pope Frances admitted that more could have been done by the Roman Catholic Church.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them”.
This letter comes in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report, which was described by the State’s Attorney General the “largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States.”
The 900-page report said internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania — some held in a secret archive to which only the bishop had a key — show that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.
Pope Francis said that these “wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away”.
The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced, he said. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it, by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.
Their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it, by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.
He went on to say that it was “essential” for the Church to “acknowledge and condemn” with “sorrow and shame”, the “atrocities” of members of clergy, consecrated people and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for the most vulnerable.
“Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others,” he said.
These crimes inflicted deep wounds of pain and powerlessness among the victims, “but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike”.
Pope Francis pointed out that no effort to “beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient”. But, looking ahead , “no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated”.
The pain of the victims and their families “is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults”.
He noted that work was being carried out to ensure the safety and protect the integrity of children and vulnerable adults “as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable”.
The Church delayed in applying these actions and sanctions “that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future”.
No effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.
The grand jury described the Church’s methods as “a playbook for concealing the truth” after FBI agents identified a series of practices they found in diocese files.
The grand jurors said that “almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.”
Priests and other Catholic leaders victimised boys and girls, teens and pre-pubescent children. Some victims were plied with alcohol and groped or molested, the report says. Others were orally, vaginally or anally raped, according to the grand jurors.
“But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the State, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.”