For a long time, the Catholic Church was said to complicit in the covering up of cases of sexual abuse carried out by priests and other members of The Roman Catholic orders.
The sex abuse scandal really broke open in 2002 with the discovery that US bishops moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them.
Similar scandals continued to be unearthed around the world and to date, tens of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation.
It was one of the big issues before Pope Francis when he was elected in 2013 and although he took some steps to root out sexual abuse in the church and to put in place practices to protect children, some victim groups were of the mind that he had not done enough.
They decried that further action needed to be taken to hold to account bishops who tolerated sexual abuse or covered it up. Now, Pope Francis has informed bishops around the world that they must adhere to a policy of “zero tolerance” for clergies who sexually abuse children and begged forgiveness for “a sin that shames us”.
The letter by Pope Francis was sent on 28 December but was made public knowledge by the Vatican on Monday. In it, The Pope addressed the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church thus;
“I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to ‘zero tolerance’.”
He also wrote in the letter, which also focused on the plight of vulnerable children in general, that;
“[The church] recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests. It is a sin that shames us,”
“We join in the pain of the victims and weep for this sin – the sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power.”
In 2014, Pope Francis had set up a Vatican commission, including some victims, to advise local churches on how to prevent abuse and he also approved the establishment of a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up sexual abuse or failing to prevent it.
The Pope who has met victims of sexual abuse several times, in 2015, ordered the trial and defrocking of a Polish archbishop accused of paying for sex with minors in the Dominican Republic.