Pope Francis’ apology to the victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church was a “strong signal” to the religious community that things had to change, Archbishop Charles Scicluna said.
The letter by Pope Francis was published on Monday, acknowledging “the suffering” and abuse of power and conscience by a “significant number of clerics and consecrated persons”.
“The Letter to the People of God by Pope Francis is a strong signal that empowers Catholic communities around the world to disclose abuse, support victims, demand accountability from perpetrators and expect stewardship from bishops,” Scicluna said.
Pope Francis’ statement was highly anticipated – especially after a 900-page a Pennsylvania grand jury report was published, revealing that than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.
It investigated clergy sexual abuse dating to 1947 in six dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Pennsylvania’s two other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, have been the subjects of earlier grand jury reports, which found similarly damaging information about clergy and bishops in those dioceses.
“We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands,” the grand jury report says.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”
“Almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.” However, charges have been filed against two priests, one in Erie diocese and another in Greensburg diocese, who have been accused of abusing minors.
Some victims were plied with alcohol and groped or molested while 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.”