VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has issued a letter to Catholics around the world condemning the “crime” of priestly sexual abuse and cover-up and demanding accountability, in response to new revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.
Francis 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 abuse crisis, with church leaders more concerned for their reputation than the safety of children.
Francis wrote: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
The Vatican issued the letter Monday, ahead of Francis’ trip this weekend to Ireland that is expected to be dominated by the abuse crisis.
Just last week, a sweeping grand jury report revealed that roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s. It went on to accuse senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., of systematically covering up complaints.
The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, the grand jury said.
While the grand jury said dioceses have established internal processes and seem to refer complaints to law enforcement more promptly, it suggested that important changes are lacking.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the roughly 900-page 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.”
Top church officials have mostly been protected and many, including some named in the report, have been promoted, the grand jury said, concluding that “it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”
In nearly every case, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.