Pope Francis voiced his sorrow Wednesday over a sweeping report on clerical sexual abuse in France released the day before, calling this “a moment of shame” for the Catholic Church and urging Church officials to ensure the safety of everyone entrusted to their care.
Speaking during his Oct. 6 general audience, Pope Francis noted that the French bishops conference and the conference of men and women religious “received a report from an independent commission on sexual abuse in the Church intended to evaluate the extent of the phenomenon of aggression and sexual violence carried out on minors from 1950.”
“Unfortunately, there were considerable numbers,” he said, and voiced not only his “sadness and pain” to the victims for the trauma they have endured, but also “shame; our shame, but my shame, for the Church’s inability for too long to put them at the center of its concerns by assuring them of my prayers.”
“I pray and we all pray together: to you, Lord, be the glory, to us the shame. This is a moment of shame,” he said.
Pope Francis’s words come the day after the publication of a 2,500-page report that came as the result of a 4-year investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France. The report was commissioned by the French bishops.
That report, released Oct. 5, found that an estimated 330,000 children – roughly 80 percent of whom were boys – were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of some 3,000 French clergy and religious throughout the past 70 years.
The 2,500-page report also showed decades of systematic coverup by Church authorities.
Following the report’s publication yesterday, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni assured journalists of the pope’s concern and sorrow over the report’s contents. However, Francis’s remarks Wednesday are the first time he has spoken about the report in his own voice.
In his remarks, the pope urged faithful and pilgrims present to “share in this moment” of shame and suffering in the church, and he encouraged bishops, religious, and religious superiors “to continue making every effort so that similar dramas are not repeated.”
Pope Francis closed his audience voicing his closeness and support to the priests of France “in the face of this hard but healthy trail, and I invite French Catholics to assume their responsibility in guaranteeing that the Church is a safe home for all.”
In an Oct. 6 statement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, created by Pope Francis to advise him on the fight against clerical abuse, called the French report “an indictment” of the failures of those in leadership in the Church.
“This history of unchecked abuse extending over the course of generations challenges our comprehension of how innocent persons could have suffered so terribly and their voices been ignored for so long,” he said.
The Church, O’Malley said, “must not fail in the commitment to seek healing and justice for the survivors.”
He praised the efforts made by the Catholic Church in France to both acknowledge the problem and to take the first steps toward healing.
“We cannot allow that one survivor goes unacknowledged, or that one person would be in danger of abuse by a member of the Church,” he said, noting that there is still “a long road ahead” in terms of confronting the problem of clerical abuse, and, as the Church moves forward, protection of children and vulnerable adults must be “our highest priority.”