Aware the Catholic Church has been heavily criticized for not responding adequately to the issue of child sex abuse by priests, Pope Francis made a strongly worded apology on Friday. He did so while meeting with child-rights groups.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests — quite a few in number (although) 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,” the Pope said.
“The church is aware of this damage," he added. "It is 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 the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children.”
Pope Francis apology at Vatican
When he made his apology, Pope Francis was meeting with a number of groups that are involved in child protection, including a coalition of French child protection organizations and the International Catholic Child Bureau. His apology, according to reporters at the scene, did not appear to be scripted.
For decades now their lack of a strong, moral reaction to child sexual abuse at the hands of priests has plagued the Catholic Church and undermined its credibility. The words of Pope Francis echo those spoken by Pope Benedict XVI, his predecessor, who made an apology in Ireland in 2010 to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in that country.
In further efforts to show the church is working to end child sex abuse by their priests, in January the Vatican revealed documents that show that in 2011 and 2012 Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for child sexual molestation. Those numbers are higher than previous but the church has only been releasing statistics for four years.