'Pope Francis has publicly acknowledged the failures of the Roman Catholic church in dealing with sexual abuse by priests, attacking a “culture of death” and deferential “clericalism” that helps perpetuate evil.
An unprecedented letter from “His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God” was issued after almost a week of mounting pressure following the publication of an excoriating report into abuse by priests in Pennsylvania.
According to a Vatican official, it is the first time a pope has written to all of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics about sexual abuse.
The letter opens with an acknowledgement of suffering endured by children and abuse of power. Francis admits the church has failed to “act in a timely manner” and promises zero tolerance and sanctions. “We have realised that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death,” he said.
He added: “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. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.”
The church has been engulfed in a wave of sexual abuse scandals this year, including in the US, Chile and Australia. Many relate to the cover-up of crimes by archbishops, bishops and other senior figures.
The issue is likely to dominate Francis’s trip to Ireland this weekend, when survivors of sexual abuse are expected to protest. Some have demanded a public meeting with the pope.
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The publication of a grand jury report into sexual abuse over a 70-year period in Pennsylvania, published last Tuesday, concluded that more than 1,000 children were the victims of more than 300 priests.
“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. For decades,” the report said.'
Read more: Pope on sexual abuse: 'We showed no care for the little ones'