WASHINGTON - The Vatican late Thursday released a statement condemning the sexual abuse described in a grand jury report, and said that Pope Francis is on the side of the more than 1,000 victims.
“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” the Vatican said Thursday in a statement. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
“There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said, adding that the victims should know that Pope Francis is on their side.
Also Thursday, a Catholic bishops organization has called for a Vatican-led investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the probe two days after a grand jury in the eastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania disclosed the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church. The grand jury report said 301 priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused more than 1,000 children over the past 70 years.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of McCarrick late last month following allegations he sexually abused child and adult seminarians over a period of decades.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the Washington-based bishops organization, said in a statement the church is confronted with a “spiritual crisis” and a need for “practical changes to avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past.” DiNardo added that there is a need for “stronger protections against predators in the Church and anyone who would conceal them.”
The group said it would develop a new method for victims who were sexually abused by clergy to report allegations without interference from bishops who oversee the priests who have been targeted with the claims. The new mechanism would involve more non-clergy church members who have expertise in law enforcement or psychology, the group said.
A prominent Catholic group that was formed to promote parishioner’s voices after the first scandal emerged is concerned about how the new reporting process would work. Voice of the Faithful spokesman Nick Ingala said it would be imperative that the process be protected from any clerical influence.
“I don’t know how they are going to work that out,” Ingala said.
Sex abuse in the church first erupted onto the global stage in 2002, when The Boston Globe reported priests sexually assaulted children for decades while church leaders covered up their crimes.
Since 2002, similar allegations have emerged in Europe, Chile and Australia, undermining the moral authority of the church, which has some 1.2 billion members worldwide.