One of Australia’s most senior archbishops apologised to victims of sexual abuse by priests today in a message condemning the behaviour and the Roman Catholic church’s failure to properly deal with the problem.
Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart sent the message to all churches in more than 200 parishes in the southern state of Victoria with instructions that it be read at Sunday mass.
Catholic church leaders in Australia have long condemned abuse by priests in interviews and statements, but rarely have they addressed the problem in such forthright terms in sermons or other messages delivered in church.
“The scourge of sexual abuse continues to cause great distress and in many cases a crisis of faith amongst Catholics,” the Archbishop wrote in the pastoral letter, also posted on the church’s website.
“Every week seems to bring fresh scandals, as victims of abuse speak publicly of what they and their families have suffered.
“I express my deep sorrow and offer a sincere and unreserved apology to all those victims who have suffered the pain and humiliation of sexual abuse and to their families,” he said.
He said the church had “not always dealt appropriately with offenders” and it must face up to the truth.
“Sexual abuse in any form, and any attempt to conceal it, is a grave evil and is totally unacceptable,” he said.
The message fits with recent attempts by the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI to openly condemn abusing priests and recognise the suffering of victims to try to deal with the crisis that deepened this year.
Last month, Benedict begged forgiveness from victims at a Mass at St Peter’s Square.
Other leaders in Australia criticised the church’s handling of sexual abuse by priests. Archbishop Mark Coleridge of the Canberra archdiocese wrote an open letter in May that said the culture of the church contributed to the crisis.
A sexual scandal erupted within the church in Australia in the 1990s, and more than 100 priests were charged with offences, according to Broken Rites, a victim support group.
On Friday, former Catholic priest John Sidney Denham was imprisoned for 20 years for abusing boys at a Catholic school north of Sydney between 1968 and 1986.
After the scandals broke, the church in Australia established new procedures for handling sexual abuse claims, including compensation payments. Leaders insist the system encourages victims to go to the police.