Pope begs forgiveness for 'evil' of clerical molesters
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday accepted personal responsibility for the “evil” of priests who raped and molested children, asking forgiveness from victims and saying the church must be even bolder in its efforts to protect the young. It was the first time a pope has taken personal responsibility for the sex crimes of his priests and begged forgiveness.
Francis' off-the-cuff remarks were delivered to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, a French network of organizations that protects children's rights. Sitting with them in his library, Francis spoke slowly, deliberately and softly in his native Spanish.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests —quite a few in number, though obviously not compared to the number of all priests — to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” he said.
“The church is aware of this … personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and to the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I think we must be even stronger! You don't play around with the lives of children.”
Francis did not specify whether “sanctions” would be church-enforced or involve civil justice authorities. In February, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes.
Children were molested by priests over decades as bishops moved them from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police. Pope John Paul II denounced the abusers, saying there was no place for them in the priesthood. Pope Benedict XVI expressed sorrow and regret to victims, met with them and even wept with them.
The main American victim's group, SNAP, said it was waiting for more.
“We beg the world's Catholics: Be impressed by deeds, not words,” said SNAP's outreach director Barbara Dorris in a statement. “Until the pope takes decisive action that protects kids, be skeptical and vigilant.”