Pope apologises for 'evil' of child abuse by clerics
POPE Francis has apologised and asked for forgiveness for the "evil" perpetrated by Catholic priests who sexually abused children.
In his strongest public condemnation yet of the clerical abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church, the Pontiff went off-script during his address to the International Catholic Child Bureau during a meeting at the Vatican.
He said: "I feel compelled to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children."
His apology follows the Vatican's appointment last month of Irish clerical sex abuse survivor Marie Collins to a special eight-member panel to address the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy.
Ms Collins was herself sexually abused in a hospital by a paedophile priest in the 1960s when she was 13 years old.
"The church is aware of this damage," Pope Francis said on Vatican Radio yesterday.
"It is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children."
His bold statement follows a rebuttal he made last month after officials from the United Nations had accused senior church prelates of covering up for abusive priests.
The Pope defended the church in a newspaper interview at the time, stating: "The Catholic Church is possibly the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility.
"No one else has done more. Yet the church is the only one to be attacked."
Pope Francis's apology also follows his pledge that the Catholic Church is committed to strengthening its child-protection programmes and ensuring that offenders are punished.
He also said bishops were being encouraged to support abuse victims and that the church should be forced to make monetary compensation settlements to victims.
The Pontiff's comments come after he established a Vatican commission in December to promote improved child-protection measures within the church.
However, abuse survivor and politician Mannix Flynn has lashed out at the apology from Pope Francis to sex abuse victims as "hollow" and self-serving.
The Independent Dublin city councillor and writer, playwright and actor said he believed the Pontiff's "personal apology" and plea for forgiveness to the victims of clerical sex abuse was a political manoeuvre.
"I absolutely believe it's a pre-emptive strike," he said of what is expected to be another stinging indictment of the Catholic Church by a UN human rights panel that is to release a report in May on the Vatican's handling of the clerical abuse scandal. "This is a gesture coming up to Holy Week."