Pope begs forgiveness for 'sacrilegious cult' of Church sexual abuse

Mon Jul 7, 2014 5:52pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - 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 sacrilegious cult.

"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. "So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized 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 shielded them.

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 event.

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 Church's image.   Continued...

Pope Francis waves during his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican July 6, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile