Pope Francis acknowledges abuse scandals driving people from church

Pope Francis has acknowledged that the sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church are driving people away and said the church must change if it wants to keep future generations.

Francis referred directly to the crisis convulsing his papacy on the fourth and final day of his Baltic pilgrimage, which coincided with the release of a devastating new report into decades of sex abuse and cover-up in Germany.

He told a gathering of young people in Estonia, considered one of the least religious countries in the world, that he knows many young people feel the church has nothing to offer them and does not understand their problems.

Those complaints recently poured into the Vatican through surveys commissioned ahead of a major meeting of bishops starting next week on how to better minister to young Catholics.

“We know – and you have told us – that many young people do not turn to us for anything because they don’t feel we have anything meaningful to say to them,” Francis told a gathering of Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox young people.

“They are outraged by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation, by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young, and simply by the passive role we assign them.”

He said the church wants to respond to those complaints transparently and honestly.

“We ourselves need to be converted,” he said. “We have to realise that in order to stand by your side we need to change many situations that, in the end, put you off.”

It was a public admission of the church’s failures in confronting sex abuse scandals, which have roared back to the headlines recently with revelations of abuse and cover-up in the US, Chilean and now German churches.

The German bishops conference on Tuesday is releasing a report that found 3,677 people — more than half of them 13 or younger and nearly a third of them altar boys — were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014.

The report, compiled by university researchers, found evidence that some files were manipulated or destroyed, many cases were not brought to justice, and abusers were sometimes moved to other dioceses without the congregations being informed about their past, according to reports in the German press.

The scandal, which erupted in Ireland in the 1990s and subsequently Australia and the US in following decades, threatens Francis’s own papacy since a former Vatican ambassador accused him of rehabilitating an American cardinal who slept with seminarians.

Francis has declined to respond to the accusations, but the Vatican is expected to soon.

- Press Association

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