.- In response to the media coverage of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the bishops of England and Wales expressed today their “heartfelt apology and deep sorrow” to victims of sexual abuse and for the Church's previous handling of the scandal. The bishops appealed for prayers, recognized Pope Benedict’s “wise and courageous leadership” and pledged their commitment to the protection of children.
The message, released by the bishops’ conference following their meeting on Thursday in Leeds, stressed that “there can be no excuses” for cases of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The statement will be distributed to all parishes in the country this coming weekend.
First and foremost in their thoughts and prayers, they wrote, are “all who have suffered from the horror of these crimes.” They added that their own distress is "nothing" when compared to the suffering of the abused.
Calling the criminal acts of sexual abuse by clergy and religious a “profound scandal,” the bishops wrote that “they bring deep shame to the whole church.”
"But shame is not enough,” they underscored.
“The abuse of children is a grievous sin against God. Therefore we focus not on shame but on our sorrow for these sins. They are the personal sins of only a very few. But we are bound together in the Body of Christ and, therefore, their sins touch us all.
“We express our heartfelt apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed,” the bishops said. “We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God for these terrible deeds done in our midst.
“There can be no excuses.”
They went on to express their regret and apology for the failings of “some bishops and Religious leaders” in their handling of cases of sexual abuse of minors and to note that the Church's current procedures should have been in place from the beginning.
They further emphasized that “full co-operation with statutory bodies is essential” and pledged their commitment to “continue to make every effort ... to identify any further steps (they) can take.”
“We are committed to continuing the work of safeguarding, and are determined to maintain openness and transparency, in close co-operation with the statutory authorities in our countries,” they added.
“The Holy Spirit guides us to sorrow and repentance, to a firm determination to better ways, and to a renewal of love and generosity towards all in need,” they concluded.
In their message, the bishops invited Catholics in England and Wales to observe the four Fridays of May in “deep prayer of reparation and atonement,” as well as praying for the Pope, “whose wise and courageous leadership is so important for the Church at this time.”