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Pope Francis asks forgiveness for clergy sex abuse scandal

A Swiss Guard salutes as Pope Francis and cardinals leave a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on Feb. 20, 2014. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service
A Swiss Guard salutes as Pope Francis and cardinals leave a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on Thursday (Feb. 20). The pope asked the world's cardinals and those about to be made cardinals to meet at the Vatican Feb. 20-21 to discuss the church's pastoral approach to the family. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

A Swiss Guard salutes as Pope Francis and cardinals leave a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on Feb. 20, 2014. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

(RNS) In his strongest personal remarks yet on the clergy sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis on Friday (April 11) asked forgiveness “for the damage” that abusive priests have inflicted on children and pledged that the Catholic Church “will not take one step backward” in efforts to address the crisis.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said.

“The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”

The pope’s remarks were in an unscripted addition to a speech he was giving to the International Catholic Child Bureau, a French Catholic network that works to promote the rights of children.

His comments were seen as a further effort to counter the criticism he has received for not addressing the clerical abuse crisis as quickly and aggressively as he has other issues.

Last December, the Vatican announced that Francis would name a commission to advise him on establishing rules and best practices for dioceses around the world to combat the abuse of children, and in March the pope appointed the first members.

Half of them are women and one, Marie Collins of Ireland, was sexually abused by a priest as a child. The appointments raised hopes that the commission would for the first time try to tackle the crucial issue of disciplining bishops who do not act to curb suspected abusers.

Still, many advocates are dismayed that Francis has not met with victims and they are upset with his recent comments to an Italian newspaper that the church has been unfairly singled out for criticism on this issue.

“This may be the first time a pope has talked of sanctions against complicit bishops. But that is all it is: talk,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a leading victims advocacy group.

“On church governance, church finances, and simple living, he acts,” Dorris said Friday. “On the rape of children, he talks.”


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • It may come to pass that this,Pope, May make his own investigation & come up with the correct solution to the many things that are not even slightly BIBLICAL and do something that JESUS CHRIST WOULD BE PROUD OF!

  • Perhaps it was in the Spanish statement, but I didn’t see where the Pope said anything about disciplining bishops failing to act. This is the crucial element.

  • I really admire Francis, but we need more than words, more than “forgiveness,” we need action, big action, a mammoth change in the ways the church operates so monarchically, with so much secrecy, using the people in the pews only as a source of funding for the mansions of the hierarchy. We need big actions that will ensure big results.

    That will only happen when the people in the pews are considered equal to the clergy and are given a full voice in the management and operation of their church. “The People of God” was never intended to refer only to the clergy. The people in the pews are not a source of wealth in which the clergy can wallow like royalty.

  • We, the People of God, cannot wait for the preachers’ references to the Spirit doing things, making changes, correcting the awful order and odor the clergy have brought to the church. The people in the pews must take action. It is their church even more than it is the church of the clergy. The clergy are the servants of the people in the pews. For too many centuries, it has been distorted in reverse.

    It has been too obvious for too long why the clergy have caused the evolution of sacraments that gives them power over the people in the pews. Martin Luther saw the original distortion away from “the priesthood of the people” to a sacramental priesthood that hovers like a monarch over serfs.

    People in the pews, wake up, walk out, study, learn, and demand your equal, rightful part in the management and operation of your churches. Select your own priests for your parishes. Collaborate with the clergy chosen by the people in the pews in each diocese to select your own bishops.

    The monster the church has become cannot be managed as a universal monarchy mis-begetting itself with no input from the people in the pews. Who pays all the costs for the mansions of Bling, Myers, and Gregory? Who is expected to pay for their royal, “peacock” style of living after they retire?

    People in the pews, no longer wait for the clergy to clean up the disgusting mess they have caused for centuries. No longer wait for the Holy Spirit. Take charge of your own church! Tear out the cancer of church secrecy. Then the Spirit of God will be able to be with you and works Its way through you. Then your church can be truly religious and the People of God, free of all forms of abuse by “celibate” clergy, will be able to live and grow in holiness.

  • Pedophile Priests

    Leviticus 19:20-29; 20:10-22
    There are a variety of sexual sins described and prohibited. They are an abomination and compared with vomit.
    The punishment for breaking YHWH-God’s Law is death.

    1 Samuel 2:12, 22-25, 34; 4:17-18
    Abusive priests are publicly rebuked and punished.

    Matthew 18:1-6
    Whoever causes a child to stumble, the pedophile is better off thrown into the sea with heavy weights.

    Luke 3:8
    Bear (produce) fruits in keeping with repentance, pedophiles. A simple apology doesn’t cut it! You must pay restitution!

  • Catholic Church is a criminal enterprise.
    It is protecting the Boston pedophile godfather – Cardinal Bernie Law (and countless others) from the American Justice system.

    Religion poisons everything. And in this case justice delayed is justice denied.
    Thanks to religion.

  • II am an atheist, not a Christian, but because my father was sexually abused by a catholic priest as a child, I do feel that I have some voice in this discussion.

    I forgive the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse of my father. I forgive it for the damage it’s done to my family – damage that has echoed across the generations. I forgive the church, because I know that my own and my family’s healing is under MY control, no matter what the pope decides to do, and I know that forgiveness is a part of that healing process.

    No divine or human sacrifice was needed in this process btw.

    Vicarious redemption is for chumps.

  • Talk is cheap , anybody good or bad can say what pope Francis did…big deal. Until there is some real action to publicly kick these evil priests out of the Church and do serious prison time…which never happens? only a few cases.

    The number of accused priests is beyond staggering … why would people in their right minds want to go to Church.

    Other Churchs of different denominations have the same problem…and very few people say anything.

  • I see it as an action from the Pope to show remorse, and admit wrongdoing. I don’t give a lot of weight to forgiveness though. Certainly no one can really forgive an offender aside from the victim. As far as I am concerned forgiving may only help the offender and reconcile. It won’t heal the vitim as much as it will make the offender feel better. In other words this should not be a priority. Priority should be in putting controls in place to prevent all future abuse. Automatic and permanent defrocking, and jail time for any child proved abuse. No protection for the purps. Protection for the prospective victims comes first.

  • In the usa alone the number of bad priests is about ten thousand and i’ve seen notes that 2/3 of the bishops knoowingly protected pedo priests

    Everyone of these needs to be excommunicated and dragged to the police in chains. Per v arious groups 200,000 or more kids were raped, there is still zero data on how many lives were ruined and how many kids committed suicide – a common situation when girsl are raped by males, I know of two .

    Pope Francis is a good guy in many ways vs RATZI who hid these vile crimes himself and should be tossed in the street and told where the welfare office is located.

    But until this whole mess is dealt with as an enormous criminal conspiracy, there will be no peace for the church

  • it s interesting to note that the baptist church also has this problem and the only large churches with it are those that dont allow women to be religious leaders

    Just as re the same sex marriage debate, the further east you go in Europe towards commie land, the more the nations oppose marriage or even civil unions for gay people

    Interestng bed fellows for the most conservative large churches

    We do have to be careful of who says what re church people. RATZI,, who unexcommunicated holocaust denier Bishop williamson, hired a spin master from faux news