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Pope Francis Apologizes for Clergy Child Sex Abuse

(Photo: Catholic Church of England)

(Photo: Catholic Church of England)

Pope Francis has apologized for the “evil” sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests.

In a Vatican address to members of the nongovernmental International Catholic Child Bureau, which works to protect the rights and dignity of children around the world, the Pope said the Catholic Church was aware of the great damage done by priests and other clergy who rape and molest children. He personally asked for forgiveness.

“I feel compelled to personally…ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said, adding that fighting clergy sex abuse is a priority of his papacy.

Francis called the harm done by pedophile priests “personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church.” He also acknowledged that the number of guilty priests was “quite a few in number.” The leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics promised to punish those clergy members who sexually abuse children.

“We don’t want to take a step backward in dealing with this problem and with the sanctions that must be imposed,” the Pope vowed. “On the contrary, I believe we must be very strong. You don’t play with children’s lives!”

At least thousands of Catholic priests and clergy in nearly every nation in which the Church operates have been accused of raping or molesting children and adults. Classified US embassy cables published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks in 2010 revealed that the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI refused to allow officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating decades of child sex abuse. Even more damning is a 1997 ‘smoking gun’ letter from the Vatican to Irish Catholic bishops ordering them to refrain from reporting child sex abuse cases, proof that the highest levels of the Catholic church were complicit in a massive cover-up.

In March 2010, Benedict apologized to Irish Catholics for clergy sex abuse, admitting that “serious mistakes” were made by the church involving its response to the widespread sex abuse. But victims groups claim that as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, Benedict turned a blind eye as local churches moved priests and other clergy who raped and molested children and other parishioners from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and alerting law enforcement authorities.

Some victims of pedophile priests said the Pope’s apology isn’t enough.

“This is the status quo. Pope Francis is the third pope to apologize for the sexual abuse of minors. He’s doing nothing but continues in the patterns of his predecessors,” Joelle Casteix, an abuse victim and the western director for SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told CBS News. “He is continuing by forming committees, by making apologies, by asking for forgiveness. And he’s also following in the path of his predecessors by not doing anything, by not punishing anybody and by not ensuring that what happened to me and other kids isn’t still going on.”

“The kids are always forgotten in this,” Casteix explained. “The church does everything they can to make it about money and make it about policies and make it about commissions. But what they forget about are kids like me who where 15 years old, 14 years old, sexually abused, and my perpetrator got me pregnant and gave me a sexually transmitted disease and no one was there to help me.”

Casteix added that “the only thing that would solve all of this is if the Vatican turns over everything they have to external civil and criminal authorities, and if they punish wrong-doers, like bishops who have been convicted or implicated in child sexual abuse.”

“An internal investigation is only going to show the best and the brightest and the most beautiful things that the Vatican wants to show,” Casteix added. “There’s no way that they would willingly hand over and willingly investigate to show crimes that they committed. Only an external investigation will do it. And a committee, an internal committee, can’t do that.”

The Pope recently lashed out at critics of the Vatican’s handling of the global clergy sex abuse scandal, asserting that “no one else has done more” to fight pedophilia within the Church than the Vatican itself.

But in February, the United Nations issued a scathing report demanding the Vatican “immediately remove” all known or suspected clergy child sex abusers and turn them over to civil authorities. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said church officials had imposed a “code of silence” on clerics to prevent them reporting attacks to police, and moved abusers from parish to parish “in an attempt to cover up such crimes.”

“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.

It urged the Vatican to “immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes.”

Last year, USA Today reported the Vatican has paid out more than $2.5 billion to settle clergy sex abuse cases around the world, including nearly $700 million paid to victims of child-raping and -molesting priests and clergy in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The Pope also used his Friday address as an opportunity to speak out in favor of “traditional” families. He said Catholics must defend all children’s right “to grow in a family with a mother and father able to create a healthy environment for their growth and affective maturity,” which he said includes “maturing in relationship to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”

Some critics took the Pope’s remarks about family as a thinly-veiled attack on same-sex, single or communal parents.

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