VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church’s inability to make victims of abuse their top concern is a cause for intense shame, Pope Francis said.
In the wake of a major report investigating the extent of sexual aggression and abuse against minors in the Church in France, the Pope said, “I wish to express to the victims my sadness, my grief, for the traumas they have endured, and also my shame”.
This deep sense of shame, “our shame, my shame,” he said, was for “the too lengthy inability of the Church to put (victims) at the centre of its concerns”.
The Pope made his remarks at his general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, in the presence of a group of bishops and a cardinal from France who had been in Rome for their “ad limina” visit. Just before the audience, the Pope and four of the bishops gathered privately for a moment of silent prayer for victims.
After delivering his main catechesis, the Pope highlighted a recent report published by an independent body commissioned by the French bishops’ conference.
According to the four-year investigation, an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests since 1950, and more than 100,000 others were abused by lay employees of Church institutions.
The Pope commented on the “considerable number” of known victims revealed in the report.
Assuring victims of his prayers, the Pope asked everyone to pray with him: “To you, Lord, the glory; to us, the shame. This is the moment of shame.”
He encouraged the country’s bishops and superiors general of religious orders “to continue to do their utmost so that similar tragedies are not repeated”.
Pope Francis also expressed his closeness to the priests in France, assuring them of his “paternal support before this ordeal, which is arduous, but beneficial”.
He invited the nation’s Catholics to take on their responsibility for guaranteeing that “the Church be a safe home for everyone”.
Meanwhile, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, U.S. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, welcomed the publication of the final report of the “Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in France”.
The report “is an indictment of the failures of leadership in the Church and those holding responsibility for the care and protection of the faithful”, the cardinal said in a written statement.
“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 wrote.
Working with government officials and law enforcement, he said, the church “must not fail in the commitment to seek healing and justice for the survivors.”
The cardinal welcomed and encouraged the implementation of new measures outlined by Church leaders in France earlier this year, and said they show how the “cruel indifference” that survivors experienced in the Church “can be turned into care and protection”.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that Pope Francis learned “with sorrow” of the contents of the report and his “thoughts go first of all to the victims, with great sorrow for their wounds and gratitude for their courage in reporting” their abuse.
The Pope also prayed that the Catholic Church in France, “in the awareness of this appalling reality” of the suffering of vulnerable children, would trace out a path of repentance and reform.
The report, released on October 5, was written by an investigating commission led by Jean-Marc Sauvé, a senior civil servant.
Before the report was published, he told reporters the inquiry found evidence of between 2900 and 3200 abusive priests out of a total of about 115,000 who had served in France since 1950.
Photo: Prior to the Pope’s general audience at the Vatican on October 6, Pope Francis and four French bishops make the sign of the cross during silent prayer for the victims of abuses committed by members of the clergy (CNS Photo)