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Pope vows no more sexual abuse cover-ups

Pope Francis has appealed to Catholics around the world to help root out the scourge of child sexual abuse. In an unprecedented letter, he begged victims for forgiveness and vowed there would be no more cover-ups.

Pope Francis issued a letter addressed to all Catholics on Monday, condemning the sexual abuse of minors at the hands of priests.

"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."

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The Vatican said it was the first time Francis had written to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics about sexual abuse by members of the clergy. The three-page letter was released ahead of the pontiff's planned visit to Ireland this weekend.

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Abuse scandals

Sex abuse scandals in the United States, Australia, Chile and Ireland have seriously battered the church's credibility.  

Last week, a grand jury report in the US state of Pennsylvania revealed that at least 1,000 children had been preyed upon by some 300 priests over the past 70 years. It also found that bishops repeatedly failed to punish the abusers or take measures to protect vulnerable children.

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In his first direct response to the report, Francis said that while most cases it listed "belong to the past," it was clear the crimes were "long ignored, kept quiet or silenced."

In July, the pope accepted the resignation of prominent US cardinal Theodore McCarrick after he was accused of sexually abusing minors nearly five decades ago.

In May, all 34 of Chile's bishops tendered their resignation to the pope over a sexual abuse crisis there. He accepted five of those offers.

Read morePope Francis admits 'grave mistakes' in handling of abuse scandal

'More action, less words'

In the letter, Pope Francis appealed to his audience to band together "in uprooting this culture of death," and promised there would be no more cover-ups.

"No effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated," he said.

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Francis did not, however, refer to any specific measures that would be taken against bishops who turned a blind eye to such crimes.

Victims groups voiced their disappointment over the letter, saying the pope needed to do more to hold senior clergy members accountable.

"That culture was overseen by #Vatican & codified into its laws," tweeted Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland. "He needs to name & own that."

"More actions, less words," said Anne Barrett-Doyle, co-director of the US-based abuse monitor BishopAccountability.org.

"He needs an effective discipline process for bishops and religious superiors who are known to have enabled abuse."

nm/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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