The Holy See said the systematic abuse perpetrated by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania had "robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith." At least 1,000 children were abused for over seven decades.
In the wake of the scathing Pennsylvania report detailing widespread sexual abuse by priests, the Vatican said on Thursday that Pope Francis was on the victims' side. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke delivered a statement that expressed "shame and sorrow," for the "criminally and morally reprehensible" abuse that took place in Pennsylvania.
"The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur," Burke said.
According to the Pennsylvania grand jury report released on Tuesday, more than 300 priests systematically abused at least 1,000 victims over the course of seven decades and the Catholic Church hierarchy went to great lengths to cover it up.
The Vatican said the abuse that took place in six dioceses of Pennsylvania signified a "betrayal of trust" that "robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith."
Pope Francis himself was not quoted in the statement, and the Church did not address calls for the resignation of the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose role in the cover-up was detailed in the report. But the Vatican stressed the "need to comply" with civil law, including mandatory reporting of abuse against minors.
The Catholic Church has faced accusations of inaction in failing to punish pedophiles among the clergy and knowingly covering up their crimes.
Pope Francis has pledged "zero tolerance" on the issue, but his tenure has been marred by a resurfacing of scandals in Chile, Australia and now the United States.
US Catholic Church takes action
On Thursday, US bishops called on the Vatican to investigate accusations of sexual abuse against Theodore McCarrick, former Cardinal of Washington, DC.
The bishops pledged to create a reporting mechanism to process accusations of sexual abuse by clergy members. In particular, they supported the investigation of claims without interference from bishops who oversee the priests accused of sexual abuse.
Additionally, they proposed involving more church members who were not clergy, but who had expertise in law enforcement or psychology, in the investigations.
"The overarching goal in all of this is stronger protections against predators in the Church and anyone who would conceal them, protections that will hold bishops to the highest standards of transparency and accountability," Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained.
jcg/sms (Reuters, AP)