Vatican: Victims of Abuse Should Know ‘the Pope Is on Their Side’

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims at th end of his weekly open-air general audience on September 4, 2013 in St.Peters square at the Vatican. The pontiff asked for a big turnout at a Vatican vigil on Saturday for peace in Syria and thanked the world's faithful and non-believers for their …

The Vatican issued a statement Thursday in response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sex abuse, expressing “shame” and “sorrow” over the report’s findings.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side,” said papal spokesman Greg Burke in an official communiqué Thursday. “Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

“Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” Burke said. “The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced.”

“The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors,” Burke stated.

The Pennsylvania grand jury released its 884-page report Tuesday listing the names of 300 priests, deacons, and laypeople accused of sexual abuse over the past 70 years, many of whom are no longer alive, and alleges a systematic cover-up by members of the Church hierarchy.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” said Mr. Burke. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

In his statement, Burke noted that almost all of the abuse discussed in the report happened decades ago, and very few cases have been presented since the sex abuse crisis of 2002.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” Burke said. “The Holy See encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.”

Burke said that the Holy See “also wants to underscore the need to comply with the civil law, including mandatory child abuse reporting requirements.”

“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” Burke said.

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