Pope Francis, facing simultaneous clergy sexual abuse crises in several countries, on Monday wrote an unprecedented letter to the world’s Catholics that asks them to help uproot “this culture of death.”
In the letter, addressed to “the people of God,” he also promised that no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and coverups.
“We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death,” he wrote.
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
The letter also responded to a recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania. He said that while most cases in the report “belong to the past,” it was clear that abuse “was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.”
A Vatican official said it was the first time a pope had written to all of the world’s some 1.2 billion Catholics about sexual abuse. Past letters on the scandal have been addressed to bishops and faithful in individual countries.
U.S. probe cites 301 priests
The grand jury last week released the findings of the largest-ever investigation of sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, finding that 301 priests in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years.
The letter was released as the church faces sexual abuse scandals in a number of countries, including the United States, Chile and Australia. It also comes days before he visits Ireland, which is still reeling from the effects of its own abuse crisis.
Francis didn’t provide any indication of what concrete measures he is prepared to take to sanction those bishops — in the U.S. and beyond — who covered up for sexually abusive priests.
Francis several years ago scrapped a proposed Vatican tribunal to prosecute negligent bishops. He also has refused to act on credible reports from around the world of bishops who have failed to report abusers to police or otherwise botched handling cases, and yet remain in office.
The Pope also has kept on his nine-member kitchen cabinet a Chilean cardinal long accused of covering up for pedophiles, an Australian cardinal currently on trial for historic sex abuse charges and a Honduran cardinal recently implicated in a gay priest sex scandal involving his trusted deputy.
In Chile, where a church sex abuse scandal was highly publicized earlier this year, Francis strong-armed the country’s 31 active bishops to offer their resignations en masse over their handling of abuse. So far, he has accepted five resignations.
With files from The Associated Press