'We Showed No Care for the Little Ones': Pope Calls for Forgiveness, Action in Response to Sex Abuse Scandal

Pope Francis conducts his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Rome, Italy, November 13, 2013.
Pope Francis conducts his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Rome, Italy, November 13, 2013. | (Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Francis released an open letter calling for repentance and accountability following an extensive report on sex abuse committed by Catholic priests and the cover-up by church leadership.

"We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them," wrote Francis, according to a copy posted by CNN. "Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient." 

Last week, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a 1,300-page report describing in detail how 301 priests abused more than 1,000 children over the past several decades and how church hierarchy shielded the perpetrators from accountability.

In the letter released by the Vatican released on Monday, the pope acknowledged with "shame and repentance" the failures of the church to act against the abusers.

"... 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," Pope Francis said.

He went on to note various efforts at accountability being done in response to the abuse scandal, including "implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable."

"We have 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," continued the pope.

"Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does."

At a news conference held last week in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro recounted some of the horrors of abuse as detailed in the report.

"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," said Shapiro.

Many have demanded swift action within the Catholic Church in response to this latest documentation of sexual abuse and cover-up from leadership.

An online petition signed by about 2,400 Catholic theologians and laymen called for all United States bishops to offer their resignations to the pope as "a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God's People."

The petition drew its inspiration from Chile, where a recent sex abuse scandal prompted all 34 of the Latin American nation's bishops to offer their resignation to Francis; ultimately three of them were accepted.

"The catastrophic scale and historical magnitude of the abuse makes clear that this is not a case of 'a few bad apples' but rather a radical systemic injustice manifested at every level of the Church," explains the petition.

"Systemic sin cannot be ended through individual goodwill. Its wounds are not healed through statements, internal investigations, or public relations campaigns but rather through collective accountability, transparency, and truth-telling."

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