Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his “shame” at the French Roman Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse and acknowledged that it was unacceptable.
During his regular audience at Vatican, the pope discussed a Tuesday report that estimated 330,000 French children had been abused by clergy or other church authorities since 1950.
“There are unfortunately many. Francis stated that he wanted to express his sadness and pain to the victims for the trauma they had suffered. “It is also our shame, our shame and my shame that the church has remained indifferent to their concerns for too long.”
He urged all religious leaders and bishops to take the necessary actions “so that similar dramas do not repeat.”
In addition, the pope expressed his “closeness” and “paternal support” to French priests despite a “difficult task,” and asked French Catholics “ensure the church remains safe for all.”
France was the first to report the phenomenon. The report stated that an estimated 3,000 priests were involved in sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church. Like other countries, the French church has had to confront shameful secrets that it long kept secret.
Jean-Marc Sauve, the president of the independent commission which issued the findings, stressed Tuesday that Catholic authorities had “systematically covered up” the abuses that spanned 70 years.
Victims welcomed the document of 2,500 pages as a long-overdue and the head French Catholic bishops’ conference asked them for forgiveness.
According to the report, the 330,000 victims include 216,000 victims who were abused by priests or other clerics. The rest were victims of church leaders such as Scout leaders or camp counselors. These estimates are based on an extensive research done by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research regarding the sexual abuse of children in France.
The commission called for strong action from the church, denouncing its “faults and silence” and urging it to compensate victims in cases that are too old to be prosecuted in French courts.
Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesperson, said Tuesday that Pope Francis had learned of the report’s findings with “sorrow.”
Bruni stated, “His thoughts are in first place for the victims with a profound sorrow for their wounds but gratitude for their courage and willingness to speak out.”
In May 2019, Francis issued a landmark church law that requires all Catholic priests, nuns, and bishops to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups of their superiors to the church authorities. In June, he stated that all bishops must be held responsible for the “catastrophe” of the sex-abuse crisis.