PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pope Francis met with victims of child sexual abuse Sunday on the final day of his U.S. visit and promised to hold accountable those responsible for the scandal in the church, delivering a powerful warning to American bishops accused of covering up for pedophile priests instead of reporting them to police.
The pontiff disclosed the gesture of reconciliation at the start of a meeting with American bishops gathered in Philadelphia for a big rally on Catholic families.
But in a move that signaled a new effort by the church to redirect the discussion, the Vatican said not all five of the victims were abused by members of the clergy; some of the three women and two men had been victimized by family members or educators.
Francis praised the survivors as “true heralds of mercy” who deserve the church’s gratitude for helping to bring the truth to light.
“God weeps, for the sexual abuse of children cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and that all responsible will be held accountable,” Francis said in Spanish.
The pope has agreed to create a new Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who failed to protect their flock, and he has accepted the resignations of three U.S. bishops accused of mishandling cases.
He previously vowed to hold bishops accountable during his first-ever meeting with victims, held last summer at the Vatican.
But Francis and U.S. bishops have also argued that child molestation is a serious problem beyond the church, especially within families and in schools. The meeting with victims abused by people other than priests underscored that point.
Later Sunday, Francis visited a Philadelphia jail to give hope and encouragement to about 100 inmates, included suspected killers, rapists and mobsters. Late in the afternoon, he was scheduled to celebrate a final Mass on U.S. soil on Philadelphia’s grandest boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with organizers predicting a crowd of 1 million.