In a letter to all the bishops of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said that the Church “weeps” over the sins of clerical sex abuse, while renewing a “complete commitment” to protect children so that these “atrocities” will never be repeated.
The Pope’s letter was made public Monday but was dated December 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates King Herod’s murder of male babies around Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s birth.
The text breaks new ground in publicly recognizing not only the crime of sexual abuse, but also the complicity of Church authorities who could have prevented it.
“We join in the pain of the victims and weep for this sin,” Francis writes. “The sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power. The Church also weeps bitterly over this sin of her sons and she asks forgiveness.”
“It is a sin that shames us,” the letter states. “Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity. We regret this deeply and we beg forgiveness.”
Pope Francis has met with victims of sexual abuse on numerous occasions and has denounced the crimes of priests who have been found guilty of abuse.
In his visit to the United States in September 2015, Francis offered an unscheduled reflection on his meeting with the victims of sexual abuse, promising “zealous vigilance” to protect minors and bring to justice those responsible for this crime.
In a somber tone, the Pope offered his reflections after hearing the testimonies of a group of persons who had been sexually abused as children.
“Etched into my heart are the stories, the suffering and the pain of the young people sexually abused by priests,” he said. “I am overwhelmed with shame thinking that those who in their charge the tender care of these little ones violated this trust, causing them grave harm.”
“God weeps,” he said emphatically, adding that “the crimes and sins of the abuse of minors cannot be held in silence any longer,” the Pope said.
In his recent letter to the bishops, Francis said: “We hear these children and their cries of pain; we also hear the cry of the Church our Mother, who weeps not only for the pain caused to her youngest sons and daughters, but also because she recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests.”
He also said that as the Church commemorates the feast of the Holy Innocents, “I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst.”
“Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated,” Francis said.
“In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to ‘zero tolerance,’” he said.
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