“With shame and repentance”

In a letter to all the faithful, Pope Francis asks for forgiveness for the Church's failure to deal with abuse against children and others in need of protection. The Vatican published the letter on Monday afternoon.

Pope Francis has acknowledged the Church's grave culpability on the ie of clergy abuse. Taking note of the problems is far from enough; eradicating abuse once and for all requires the active participation of everyone, especially the laity. "To say 'no' to abuse is to say 'no' emphatically to every form of clericalism," the pope writes in a lengthy letter "to the people of God" published by the Vatican on Monday.

In the barely four-page letter, the pope criticizes clericalism and urges all Catholics to work against such a culture.

"Strengthen effort to ensure protection of minors"

"With shame and remorse, we as a community of the Church admit that we did not stand where we should have stood and that we did not act in a timely manner when we realized the extent and gravity of the harm," Francis wrote, among other things.

The pope's comments come in direct response to the recent report by a grand jury in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania released last Tuesday, developments in Chile and ongoing discussions ahead of his visit to Ireland next weekend.

The cry of the victims was stronger "than the actions of all those who tried to silence it" or who thought they could cure the suffering with decisions that only made things worse. To that end, Francis cited the phrase from Mary's Canticle in the Gospel of Luke: God "scatters those who are full of pride in heart; he overthrows the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly."

Urgently, it said, the church must once again "intensify its efforts to ensure the protection of minors and of adults in situations of vulnerability". In doing so, the pope acknowledges the "necessary actions and sanctions" taken so far in various parts of the world and a "zero-tolerance attitude". Although these have had an effect in the meantime, they have been "applied with delay".

Clericalism is cause of sexual and psychological abuse, he said

As one of the main causes of sexual as well as psychological abuse, the Pope names "clericalism, whether promoted by priests themselves or by the laity". This creates a division "that incites and contributes to perpetuating many of the evils we deplore today".

Clericalism is based on a false understanding of authority in the church – "very common in many communities where behaviors of sexual abuse such as abuse of power and conscience have occurred.". In doing so, Francis quoted from a 2005 Good Friday petition by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: "How much filth there is in the Church, and especially among those who should belong wholly to Him (Christ) in the priesthood? How much arrogance and self-importance?"

Nevertheless, he said, the entire people of God must participate in responding to the evils of abuse and cover-up. "Anything done to eradicate the culture of abuse from our communities without actively involving all members of the Church" will not generate the necessary momentum "for a healthy and effective transformation," the pope said.

More than 1000 victims and 300 abusive priests in Pennsylvania

The Pope's letter is prompted by a recent U.S. report that in the state of Pennsylvania alone, at least 1.000 victims and more than 300 abusive priests raised. Because of the numbers and the drastic details, the report has caused horror around the world.

Next weekend, Pope Francis travels to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, where the Catholic Church is also facing a massive credibility crisis due to numerous abuse cases. Observers expect the pope to speak to victims in a private meeting in Dublin.

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