Pope Francis told victims of sexual abuse by Roman
Catholic clerics the Church should "weep and make reparation"
for crimes he said had taken on the dimensions of a
"For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and
suffering," he said in his strongest comments yet on the
crimes, delivered in the homily of a Mass with adult victims
on Monday (local time). "So much time hidden, camouflaged
with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone
realised that Jesus was looking."
He said he would not tolerate abuse by clerics, which has
been exposed in recent years in many European, American and
Asian dioceses. Bishops would be held accountable if they
Critics of the church's long failure to act on the cases, and
of the pope's failure to meet victims earlier in his
16-month-old pontificate, said he must quickly follow up with
clear action to prove the Mass was not just a ceremonial
Francis delivered his homily to six victims of abuse, two
each from Ireland, Britain and Germany, before meeting all
individually at a gathering that lasted nearly four hours,
spending about 30 minutes with each one.
"I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to
weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who
betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons," he
said, according to a Vatican transcript.
"Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins
and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against
you. And I humbly ask forgiveness," he said.
Sexual abuse scandals have haunted the Catholic Church for
over two decades but became a major issue in the United
States about 10 years ago. Since then they have cast a shadow
over local churches in Ireland, Germany, Belgium, the
Netherlands and other countries and badly tarnished the
The meeting was closed to media but the Vatican spokesman,
who participated, said it was "very intense and moving".
"It was clearly not a public relations event. It was a very
profound, spiritual encounter with a pastor, a father, who is
trying to understand deeply what happened," Father Federico
The Vatican did not release the names and ages of the victims
but they were believed to be in their 30s and 40s. One
victim, Marie Kane, 43, of Ireland, told the Irish Times that
she told the pope that "cover-up is still happening and you
have the power to make these changes".
The paper said she asked the pope to remove Cardinal Sean
Brady because of his handling of an Irish abuse inquiry in
Victims groups have been pressing the Vatican to hold bishops
accountable if they covered up crimes. The pope addressed
this directly, repeating the thrust of what he said last
April in a conversation with reporters.
BISHOPS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE
"There is no place in the Church's ministry for those who
commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm
done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,"
he said. "All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry
with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection
of minors, and they will be held accountable."
Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based
documentation centre on abuse in the Catholic Church, said
the meeting was "positive and necessary," even if overdue.
"Now Pope Francis must internalise and personalise his point
about Church leaders 'who did not respond adequately to
reports of abuse'," she said in a statement.
She called on the pope to "follow through on his promise
today to discipline the many more bishops and religious
superiors who even recently have enabled child sexual abuse
through their negligence or deliberate cover-up".
The U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
(SNAP), said: "Francis must take decisive action right now,
action to expose and remove clerics who commit and conceal
heinous crimes against the most vulnerable."
The pope told the victims he realised that they and others
had suffered "often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain,
and even despair" and that some had turned to drugs or even
taken their own lives.
"The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon
the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church," he
Francis came under fire from victims groups for saying in an
interview this year that the Church had done more than any
other organisation to root out paedophiles in its ranks.
Victims groups have said the pope had a spotty record of
dealing with abuse cases in Argentina when he was archbishop
of Buenos Aires, and victims from that country sent him a
letter expressing "pain" that they were not invited.
The Vatican says 3,420 credible accusations of sexual abuse
by priests had been referred to the Vatican in the past 10
years and 824 clerics defrocked. The Church in the United
States has paid $2.5 billion in compensation to