A Pennsylvania grand jury has found that more than 300 clergy members committed sexual abuse over a period of decades. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says the probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials. (Aug. 15)
Pope Francis on Monday condemned the “atrocities” of sexual abuse by priests and church leaders who covered up the crimes, apologizing to the church community and demanding accountability from leaders in the future.
The letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was issued less than a week after a withering grand jury report released by the Pennsylvania attorney general alleged that church leaders protected more than 300 “predator priests” in six dioceses across the state for decades at the expense of more than 1,000 victims.
“I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons,” Francis said.
He said it was with “shame and repentance” that he acknowledged the church was slow in responding to the problem.
“We showed no care for the little ones,” the pope wrote. “We abandoned them.”
The abuses detailed in a grand jury report included crimes against children dating back to at least 1947. Victims were as young as 2 years old. Some of the children who were raped were also beaten with whips and shared in a “ring of predatory priests” within the Pittsburgh diocese, the report said.
A surge in calls to a clergy abuse hotline the attorney general set up is breathing new life into a vast investigation. The hotline has drawn more than 300 calls since the release of the grand jury report.
“We’re answering every call and following up every lead,” Joe Grace, spokesman for state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, told USA TODAY on Sunday.
The pope said the church, too, is working to protect children.
“Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient,” the pope wrote. “Looking ahead 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.”
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