Pope on sex abuse: 'We showed no care for the little ones'


VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis issued a letter to Catholics around the world Monday condemning the crime of priestly sexual abuse and its cover-up. He demanded accountability but offered no indication of how he plans to sanction complicit bishops or end the Vatican’s long-standing culture of secrecy.

Francis begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and said lay Catholics must be involved in the effort to root out abuse and cover-up. He blasted the 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, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Francis wrote.

“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

The Vatican issued the three-page letter ahead of Francis’ trip this weekend to Ireland, a once staunchly Roman Catholic country where the church’s credibility has been devastated by years of revelations that priests raped and molested children with impunity and their superiors covered up for them.

As a result, the letter was clearly an effort by Francis to respond to outrage in the U.S. and pressure from Ireland to take a tough stand on the global abuse scandal. That pressure has mounted steadily after Francis’ own reputation was tarnished during his disastrous trip to Chile in January, where he dismissed victims’ accusations of cover-up as “calumny.”

For Irish survivors, then, the letter was little more than strong words and recycled rhetoric that failed to acknowledge the Vatican’s own role in turning a blind eye to predatory priests and fomenting the culture of secrecy and cover-up that allowed the crimes to go unpunished.

“That culture was overseen by (hash)Vatican & codified into its laws,” tweeted Colm O’Gorman, a prominent Irish survivor who is organizing a solidarity demonstration of survivors in Dublin during Francis’ visit. “He needs to name & own that.”

Priestly sex abuse was always expected to dominate the pope’s Irish trip, but the issue has taken on new gravity following revelations in the U.S. that one of Francis’ 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 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 flock or punish the rapists.

And it comes on the heels of Francis’ efforts to address a spiraling sex abuse scandal in Chile, which has grown so grave that Chilean law enforcement have staged several raids on church archives to try to get a handle on what the church has known about its pedophile priests.

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