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Francis gives his clearest public statement yet on child sex abuse

VATICAN CITY: In his clearest public reference as pontiff to the subject of sex abuse, Pope Francis urged bishops to support abuse victims while also reaching out to priests who have “fallen short of their commitments”.

The Pope made his remarks on December 2 to bishops from the Netherlands making their first visits “ad limina apostolorum” (“to the threshold of the apostles”) since they met with Blessed John Paul II in 2004.

Speaking in French, the Pope brought up sex abuse near the end of his talk, in a section devoted to bishops’ care of priests under their authority.

“Like fathers, find the necessary time to welcome (your priests) and listen to them, every time they ask,” he said.

“And do not forget to go out to meet those who do not approach you; some of them unfortunately have fallen short of their commitments.

“In particular, I want to express my compassion and assure my prayers to all victims of sexual abuse and their families; I ask you to continue to support them along their painful path of healing, undertaken with courage.”

It was Pope Francis’ most explicit reference to clerical sex abuse, in public or in a statement released by the Holy See, since his election in March.

According to a 2011 report by a Dutch government commission, as many as 20,000 children may have been abused in the country’s Catholic institutions between 1945 and 1981.

Pope Francis also urged the bishops to promote Church teaching on marriage and euthanasia through dialogue with the rest of society in the Netherlands, whose population is about 30 per cent Catholic.

“In your society, strongly marked by secularisation, I encourage you to be present in public debate, everywhere man is involved,” he said.

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