Published Friday, April 11, 2014 10:01AM EDT
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
Pope Francis touches his forehead after delivering his message during the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP / Gregorio Borgia)
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis asked for forgiveness Friday from people who were sexually abused by priests, and vowed that there will be no going back in the church’s fight to protect children.
Francis made the off-the-cuff remarks after coming under criticism from victims’ advocacy groups for a perceived lack of attention to the problem and ongoing demands that he sanction bishops who covered up for pedophiles.
In his remarks to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, a French Catholic network of organizations that protects children’s rights, Francis said he felt “called to take it upon myself” and “ask forgiveness” for the evil that some priests had committed against children.
“The church is aware of this damage,” he was quoted as saying by Vatican Radio. “We don’t want to take a step back in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I think we must be even stronger! You don’t play around with the lives of children.”
Last month, Francis named the initial members of a commission to advise him on best practices to combat sexual abuse in the church. Half of them are women and one was assaulted by a priest as a child.
The Vatican has said the members will draft the statutes of the commission and would look into the legal “duties and responsibilities” of church personnel, a suggestion that they might take up the critical question of disciplining complicit bishops. Church law provides for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but to date no bishop has been disciplined for protecting an abuser.
Francis named the commission members after coming under fire for taking no action since the commission itself was announced in December. Victims groups also have been irked that he hasn’t met with survivors and recently told a newspaper that the church had been unfairly attacked for its abuse record.
Pope apologizes for clerical sex abuse, promises tough sanctions
The National Catholic Reporter
11 April 2014
Vatican City — “I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests — large in number, but not in proportion to the total — have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children,” Pope Francis said.
“The church is aware of this damage” and is committed to strengthening child protection programs and punishing offenders, he told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau during a meeting Friday at the Vatican.
Meeting with leaders of the International Catholic Child Bureau, an organization based in France and dedicated to defending children’s rights, Pope Francis said it was hard to believe “men of the church” would commit such horrors.
“We don’t want to take a step backward in dealing with this problem and with the sanctions that must be imposed,” the pope said. “On the contrary, I believe we must be very strong. You don’t play with children’s lives!”
Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of defending children’s right “to grow in a family with a mother and father able to create a healthy environment for their growth and affective maturity,” which includes “maturing in relationship to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”
Parents have a right to determine the appropriate “moral and religious education” of their children, he said, and should not be subject to school curriculums that are thinly veiled courses of indoctrination into whatever ideology is strongest at the moment.
The pope said he wonders sometimes whether parents are “sending a child to school or to a re-education camp” like those run by dictatorial governments.
Obviously, he said, children need help in responding to the problems and challenges contemporary culture and the media raise. Young people can’t be kept in “glass jars,” but must be given the values that will help them evaluate what cultural trends respect their dignity and freedom and the dignity and freedom of others.