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Widespread disappointment over letter from Pope Francis on abuse issue

‘Tired of meaningless apologies and expressions of solidarity’ that do not involve action

Pope Francis, who is due to arrive in Ireland on Saturday for a two-day visit. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Clerical sex abuse survivors have criticised an open letter from Pope Francis, in which he apologises to victims and says “no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and its cover up” in the future, for failing to explain how members of the church will be held accountable for their crimes.

In the Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God”, published unexpectedly on Monday, the pontiff said the Catholic Church had shown “no care for the little ones” and that “no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient”.

“The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way,” he said in the letter, which came days after fresh revelations of clerical abuse cover-ups in the US.

The pope, who is due to arrive in Ireland on Saturday for a two-day visit, said the Catholic Church had delayed in applying necessary actions and sanctions for the protection of children and must “guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future”.

Responding to the letter, the One in Four group, which assists abused people, said it was “both disappointed and frustrated” by what the pope had said.

Maeve Lewis, the group’s executive director, said it “rehashes the apologies” without identifying “one single concrete step that the Vatican intends to take to hold clerical sex offenders and those who protect them accountable for their crimes”. She said survivors “are tired of meaningless apologies and expressions of solidarity that do not involve a clear call to action”.

‘Very distressing’

Ms Lewis said the papal visit was “very distressing to many survivors, retriggering old emotions of shame, humiliation, despair and anger...The least they deserve during this papal visit is a clear commitment that the Catholic Church finally intends to deal with clerical child sexual abuse.”

One in Four founder Colm O’Gorman said Pope Francis had used “much stronger language than ever used before” but still does not “admit or own the deliberate policy of cover-up designed and implemented by the Vatican”. He added that “once again” the pope had failed “to name who is responsible for the cover-up”.

Ending Clergy Abuse, the international organisation of survivors, said it was “completely perplexing” that the pope had not changed church structures to deal with the abuse issue. The structures that exist “allows the Vatican to perpetuate or ignore this massive network of abuse and cover-up without having to change it”, a spokesman said.

He noted how Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin of Dublin had last week “correctly identified where this evil lives”, in the “structures that permit or facilitate abuse”.

‘Held accountable’

Marie Collins, a former member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, said the Vatican and the pope “should stop telling us how terrible abuse is and how all must be held accountable”.

In a Twitter post, she said: “Tell us instead what you are doing to hold them accountable. That is what we want to hear.” She said there was “nothing as regards a concrete plan of action in this letter”.

Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy welcomed the letter, saying it was “a clarion call”. He said there could be “no let-up in our resolve and compunction to fight a reality that led to what the pope calls ‘atrocities’”.

“Trust will never be regained unless we learn the lessons from the past and make sure that the most robust systems are in place so that this never happens again,” he said.