Pope Francis asks forgiveness for “evil” of child abuse

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  April 11, 2014 at 5:28 PM EDT

A picture shows a mosaic representing Pope Francis on April 10, 2014 at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. (San Paolo Basilica). Photo by Andres Solaro/Getty Images

A picture shows a mosaic representing Pope Francis on April 10, 2014 at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. (San Paolo Basilica). Photo by Andres Solaro/Getty Images

In remarks quoted by Vatican radio Friday, Pope Francis “personally asked forgiveness for sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests.

During a meeting with a Catholic children’s charity, Pope Francis said that he felt “compelled to personally take on all the evil” perpetrated by some priests, because “you cannot interfere with children.”

“It is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church,” he said, adding that “sanctions” would be imposed on abusive clergy.

In a response, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, issued a statement calling on the Pontiff to take decisive action against abusive clergy.

These steps include defrocking all known child abusers; handing enforcement over to secular authorities; punishing officials who failed to report instances of abuse; and ensuring the protection of whistleblowers.

“Actions speak louder than words,” the statement reads in part.

Still, Friday’s comments represent a shift in the Pope’s public statements on sexual abuse within the Church. Earlier this year, following a UN report accusing the Vatican of covering up pedophilia, Francis defended the Church, saying “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility…And yet the church is the only one that has been attacked.”

He has since formed an advisory committee on the matter, made up of both clergy and laypeople – including a survivor of clerical pedophilia.