Pope Francis said on Wednesday he was saddened and ashamed by the Catholic Church’s inability to deal with sexual abuse of children in France and that the Church must make itself a “safe home for everyone”.
“I would like to express to the victims my sadness, sorrow for the trauma they have suffered and also my shame, our shame, for the church’s inability, for too long, to put them at the centre of its concerns,” Francis said at his weekly general audience.
Speaking a day after a major investigation revealed that French clergy had abused more than 200,000 children over 70 years, the pontiff invited Catholics in France to take responsibility for what had happened in order to make the Church a “safe home for everyone.”
“This is the moment of shame,” he said, calling on bishops to make every efforts to ensure that “similar tragedies do not happen again.”
Jean-Marc Sauve, head of the commission that compiled the report, said the Church had shown indifference towards the abuses for years, preferring to protect itself rather than the victims, many of them aged between 10 and 13.
The height of the abuse was 1950-1970, the commission said in its report, with an apparent resurgence in cases in the early 1990s.
The pontiff added that he was close to French priests dealing with a “hard, yet healthy” challenge.
The Pope had already expressed his gratitude to victims for the courage they had in coming forward and denouncing what they had been through.
Sisters and brothers,
Yesterday, the Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of French religious men and women received the report of the independent Commission on sexual abuse in the Church, charged with evaluating the extent of the phenomenon of sexual assaults and violence on minors from 1950 onwards. Unfortunately, this results in considerable numbers. I wish to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma they have suffered and my shame, our shame, my shame, for the too long inability of the Church to put them at the center of her concerns, assuring them of my prayers. And I pray and we all pray together: “To you Lord the glory, to us the shame”: this is the moment of shame. I encourage the bishops and you, dear brothers who have come here to share this moment, I encourage the bishops and religious superiors to continue to make all efforts so that similar tragedies do not happen again. I express closeness and paternal support to the priests of France in the face of this trial, which is tough but healthy, and I invite French Catholics to assume their responsibilities to ensure that the Church is a safe home for all.