Pope Francis has issued a letter to Catholics around the world condemning the “crime” of sexual abuse committed by priests — and its cover-up — and demanding accountability.
The Vatican issued the three-page letter on Monday in response to new revelations in the US of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.
The Pope begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and said lay Catholics must be involved in any effort to root out abuse and cover-up.
He blasted the self-referential clerical culture that has been blamed for the crisis, with church leaders more concerned for their reputation than the safety of children.
“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, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” the Pope wrote.
The letter was distributed ahead of the Pope’s trip this weekend to Ireland, a once staunchly Roman Catholic country where the church’s credibility has been damaged by years of revelations that priests raped and molested children with impunity and their superiors covered up for them.
Sexual abuse committed by priests was always expected to dominate the trip, but the issue has taken on new gravity following revelations in the US that one of the Pope’s trusted cardinals, the retired archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused and harassed minors as well as adult seminarians.
In addition, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania in the US last week reported that at least 1,000 children were victims of some 300 priests over the past 70 years, and that generations of bishops failed repeatedly to take measures to protect their congregation or punish the rapists.
‘Never again’, Pope vows
In the letter, which was issued in seven languages and addressed to the “People of God”, the Pope referenced the Pennsylvania report and acknowledged no effort to beg forgiveness of the victims would be sufficient, but vowed “never again”.
He said, looking to the future, “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 Pope did not, however, provide any indication of what concrete measures he was prepared to take to sanction those bishops — in the US and beyond — who covered up for sexually abusive priests.
Read the Pope’s Letter to the People of God