Leaders of the Roman Catholic church who failed to respond adequately to reports of child sex abuse by paedophile priests caused even greater suffering to their victims and will in future be held accountable, Pope Francis has said, in a clear rebuke to bishops who helped cover up the scandal and shield abusers.

In his strongest condemnation yet of the clerical abuse that shook the Catholic community around the world, Francis asked for forgiveness on behalf of the church not only for the perpetrators of abuse but those senior figures whose “sins of omission” he said had exacerbated the problem.

The sexual abuse of minors by priests and other men of the cloth was a “crime and grave sin” that required the church to “make reparation”, he said.

[…] “It is something more than despicable actions,” Francis said of clerical sex abuse. “It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence.”

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