Pope Francis has recognized "with shame and repentance" the Catholic Church's failure to tackle the mounting sexual abuse by clergy against children spanning decades, writing "we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them."
In an unprecedented letter released Monday by the Vatican, Francis wrote, "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."
"Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient," the pontiff continued. "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."
The 2,000-word letter addressed to "the People of God" follows the publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report accusing more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children over seven decades. The details include "accusations of repeated rape, child pornography and priests who marked their victims with jewelry to alert other predators that these children had been 'groomed' to accept abuse," Salon's Amanda Marcotte reported.
In the three-page letter, Francis said his discussions with victims shaped his perspective, and he urges the need for accountability both for abusers and for those who covered up the abuse.
"This is about Ireland, this is about the United States and this is about Chile — but not only. Pope Francis has written to the people of God and that means everyone," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement. "It's significant that the pope calls abuse a crime, not only a sin, and that he asks for forgiveness but he acknowledges that no effort to repair the damage done will ever be sufficient for victims and survivors."
The pontiff's statement directly addressed the Pennsylvania report which "detailed the experiences of at least 1,000 survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately 70 years."
"Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away," Francis wrote. "The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity."
Moving forward, the pope said the church was working to implement a "zero tolerance" policy on abuse and coverups. He said, "If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history."
While the Vatican broke its silence on the Pennsylvania grand jury report by releasing a statement, "Pope Francis notably made no mention of it during his public sermon in Rome on Sunday," CNN reported.
"The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, the Pope's top adviser on sexual abuse, in a statement last week. "Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us."