Pope apologises for clerical abuse

'No step backwards', Francis vows

(ANSA) - Vatican City, April 11 - Pope Francis on Friday apologised for the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. "I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children," said the pontiff, whom some have accused of not being as vocal on the nagging paedophilia issue as he has in his much-publicised campaigns to help the poor and marginalised. Francis promised members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) that there would be no "step backwards" on punishing sex-abuse culprits and fighting the abuses which are one of his priorities amid a sweeping reform drive.
    The Vatican came in for sharp criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in a report earlier this year.
    The Holy See responded by saying the committee had not recognised efforts to stamp out paedophilia and had also strayed into doctrinal areas which were outside its remit.
    On Friday Francis stressed that the Catholic Church was aware of the damage done by predator priests.
    "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 will 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," Francis told the BICE members at an audience at the Vatican.
    BICE is a Catholic NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of the child worldwide. The pope also spoke about the need to reaffirm the rights of parents to decide "the moral and religious education of their children" and reject all forms of "educational experimentation with children and young people". He said that it is every child's right to grow up in a family "with a father and a mother" capable of creating "a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity". The pontiff also called for an end to what he termed as "educational experiments" with children and young people, pushing a "dictatorship of one form of thinking" on them in the name of a pretended "modernity". Francis noted that the "horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared; they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals". To counter this, he urged the BICE members to foster "a true anthropological formation of the child respectful of the reality of the person, to enable children and young people to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary culture and a widespread (permissive and relative) mentality propagated by the mass media".