The Holy See on Thursday denounced sexual abuse and called for accountability for both perpetrators and leaders who covered up their crimes, following the release of a report detailing alleged clerical abuse in Pennsylvania.
“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” said the statement, released Aug. 16.
“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
The statement responded to a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released earlier this week following an 18-month investigation into alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades. The report detailed allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims, in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.
Pope Francis takes the subject of abuse seriously, the statement said, stressing that “The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”
“The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society,” it said.
“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”
The Holy See noted that most allegations mentioned in the report are from before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the US bishops in 2002 to prevent clerical abuse.
“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” the Holy See said.
The statement encouraged “continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.” It also emphasized the importance of adhering to civil law, including abuse reporting requirements.