Pope Francis has delivered his response to mounting calls for action in the wake of a sex abuse scandal at six of the Catholic church’s eight diocese in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
The pontiff issued a letter in seven languages to Catholics around the world on Monday. Over the course of three pages, he condemns the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy throughout history.
Francis begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and said lay Catholics must be involved in any effort to root out abuse and coverup. He blasted the self-referential clerical culture that has been blamed for the crisis, with church leaders more concerned for their reputation than the safety of children.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Francis wrote.
“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
For many of those who’ve dealt with the effects of that abuse for decades, like Rod MacLeod of Toronto, it’s too little too late.
“Its all well and good to hear apologies and ‘oh, we’re ashamed.’ We’ve heard that over and over and over again,” says MacLeod.
Now 68 years old, MacLeod was repeatedly abused by a priest at his high school in Sudbury, Ont. He came forward 50 years later and this year was awarded almost $2.6 million in a lawsuit against the Basilian Fathers of Toronto after a jury found the organization helped cover it all up.
Neil McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto, says the church of today and the people involved in it shouldn’t be judged by the sins of the past.
“Just as a society, just the way we deal with abuse in general in 2018 is very different than how we dealt with it in 1970 or 1960.”
McCarthy says the Toronto Archdiocese, the largest in Canada, has been more proactive about issues like this for a lot longer than most, citing their Safe Environment Policy, created in 1989 and updated three times since.
“Within an hour, if it’s a credible allegation, it’s investigated,” says McCarthy.
“We remove a priest from ministry … If there’s an allegation involving a minor, Children’s Aid (and) police are involved … We take it very seriously.”
MacLeod believes stories like his will continue to spill out of the Catholic church for decades to come from people who, right now, are just kids. He doesn’t believe clergy members and staff will act against their own to help victims.
“People don’t follow the protocols,” he said.
Forever scarred by what happened to them, MacLeod says victims aren’t so comfortable letting the church police itself and that abuses won’t stop “until we get this out there so that everyone hears … Then we will get change. Not from inside the church, it has to come from outside.”
In his letter, Pope Francis promises victims a “commitment to a culture of care that says ‘never again’ to every form of abuse.” However his letter does not list any measures he’s willing to take to enforce that promise.
—With files from The Associated Press