In a letter addressed to Catholic practitioners worldwide, Pope Francis acknowledged the systemic child abuse by clergymen and called for solidarity as well as “penance and prayer” to heal the church.
“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,” he wrote. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
Francis’s letter directly addresses the recent grand jury report that alleged that over 300 priests in Pennsylvania abused up to 1,000 children over the span of 70 years. This was the latest report in decades of investigation into the church’s systematic protection of abusive priests and bishops.
In Monday’s letter, which The New York Times says may be the first time a pope has addressed the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics about the abuse, Francis referred to the abuse by church leadership as a “culture of death,” and denounced clericalism, the practice of focusing more on the clergy than the practitioners.
“Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today,” he wrote.
The church has long refused to acknowledge the extent of this issue, despite the fact that stories of church leaderships’ abuse and subsequent cover ups have been reported since 2002. The Times reports that Francis himself has been criticized for failing to take the abuse seriously, but the pope has supported investigations into the issue in recent months.
Throughout Monday’s letter, Francis noted the atrocities the church has perpetuated, and admitted that “no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.”
“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.” Francis wrote. “Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.”