|Pope Benedict XVI who heard a lot about the abuse but did not do much (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The scathing report urged the church to immediately hand over its records on the abuse of tens of thousands of children, immediately remove anyone suspected of abuse from their post and refer the matter to civil legal authorities. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.
Francis' words strike a different tone to comments he made in March to an Italian newspaper in which he defended the church's record.
It took many years before a pope was willing to admit there was something strongly wrong in his community of church leaders. But on Friday Pope Francis dared to speak a second time about the "evil" committed by priests who molested children. Now he made the first public plea of the Catholic Church for forgiveness for all that horror which was brought onto so many children.
The Argentine-born pontiff said the Church, which last month named a high-level group on the scandal including an abuse victim, had to take a stronger stand on a scandal that has haunted it for more than two decades, and indicated there would be repercussions for perpetrators.
"I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that 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,"he told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau.
"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, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children,"Francis said in unscripted comments as he addressed the children's rights body.
The many adults who got some nasty experiences in their life can look forward (perhaps) to a point where the church will not deny such allegations any more, and would sanction those who are still alive. Probably most men and woman damaged by actions done by priests or nuns shall have to come to terms that the person shall have died already. But they will be able to come more at ease knowing that the problem at lsat shall be recognised and handled by the church and that in the future such case will be treated sooner.
It would be wrong to think such things could only happen in the Catholic church or in very closed communities like the Jehovah's Witnesses were elders were overly protected by the organization of their church. The JW and Catholic church the last few years managed to silence all those who wanted to get out what happened in their community. It looked like no "sanctions" were church-enforced and no civil justice authorities were ever involved. Though they all should know that they should follow the legal requirements and bring to court any person who abuses an other person or animal.
Strange to hear the pope saying:
In Belgium we have seen none such thing and we only can see that everything is done to make it so impossible to pursue those who went against the rights of children or the weaker ones (invalids)."The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more, and yet the church is the only one that is being attacked,"
Criticism that Francis has not taken a bold enough stand on the issue, and did not meet sexual abuse victims in Italy and in a July trip to Brazil, has been a rare black spot in the overwhelmingly positive response to the pontiff in the 13 months he has been in office.
In particular, abuse groups have called on the church to discipline bishops accused of moving known child molesters from parish to parish, allowing abuse to continue.
"It's nice to have expressions of concern. But actions need to happen, and people have been waiting an awfully long time for that to occur,"said Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, which documents abuse cases.
"The best thing he could have done today would have been to step up to the microphone and announce that he is beginning to remove bishops who have behaved criminally in keeping priests in ministries where they don't belong, moving them around so that they continue to be a danger to children."Lots of Bishops, the one who you would consider to be high in rank and who should give the example, are left untouched, while certain lower people were set out of the parish.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which advocates for child protection and urges greater transparency in the church, said Francis' words should be received with caution.
"We beg the world's Catholics: be impressed by deeds, not words. Until the pope takes decisive action that protects kids, be skeptical and vigilant,"SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris said.
"This may be the first time a pope has talked of sanctions against complicit bishops. But that is all it is: talk."Under Francis' direction, the Vatican announced in December the creation of a new dedicated group to help the church deal with the abuse crisis. Its members were named in late March.
The body of clerics and lay people includes Marie Collins, a survivor of abuse in Ireland in the 1960s who has campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims.
Collins, a founding trustee of the Irish abuse victims' organization One in Four, has in the past pushed for punishment for bishops who failed to implement church rules on the protection of children.
Child abuse litigation has cost the Catholic Church some $3 billion in settlements in the United States alone, and shaken the moral authority of leaders of the world's largest religious denomination.
It is a pity the church had first come so much under fire before she took appropriate action. The pope had come under fire for taking no action since the commission itself was announced in December. In March Pope Francis named the commission members but still told newspapers that the church had been unfairly attacked for its abuse record. His defensive tone, coupled with the perceived languishing of the commission, led survivors and church commentators to question whether he “got it” on sex abuse.
Television view (Washington Post): Pope asks for forgiveness for ‘evil’ of priest child abuse
Reuters video: Pope asks for forgiveness for evil of priests