Pope Francis begged for forgiveness in a letter Monday and said Catholic leaders were to blame following a damaging grand jury report last week that found more than 1,000 children were sexually abused by "predator priests" in Pennsylvania for decades.
"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," he added.
The pope's response comes nearly a week after the initial 1,356-page report was released and detailed allegations of rampant sexual abuse in parishes across Pennsylvania.
Abuse complaints were kept in the church's so-called secret archive and church officials worked to hide incidents, failed to discipline priests or report the allegations to law enforcement, the report said."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," the report said.
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The Vatican said in a statement two days after the report's release that the abuses described "are criminal and morally reprehensible" and "those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith."The report, which was the result of a roughly two-year investigation, had remained under seal during pending court challenges from clergy. Clergy members had until last week to seek to have their names redacted from the long-anticipated report.
Francis on Monday said Catholic leaders who failed to protect the children must be held accountable."It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable," he wrote. "Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others."