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Vatican breaks silence, calls abuse ‘criminal and morally reprehensible’

The Vatican responded on Thursday to a Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed decades of sexual abuses by priests and cover-ups by bishops, calling the accusations described in the report “criminal and morally reprehensible.”

“Regarding the report made public in Pennsylvania this week, there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” said Greg Burke, director of the Vatican’s Press Office.

“The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced. The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

Tuesday’s grand jury report said internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.

The grand jury described the church’s methods as “a playbook for concealing the truth” after FBI agents identified a series of practices they found in diocese files.

The grand jurors said that “almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.” But charges have been filed against two priests, one in Erie diocese and another in Greensburg diocese, who have been accused of abusing minors.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” Burke said. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

But Burke also noted that most of the abuse accusations detailed in the grand jury’s report occurred before 2002, when the US Catholic bishops adopted new policies designed to inform law enforcement of accusations and quickly remove accused clergy from office.

“By finding almost no cases after 2002, the Grand Jury’s conclusions are consistent with previous studies showing that Catholic Church reforms in the United States drastically reduced the incidence of clergy child abuse,” Burke said.

Burke said the Vatican “encourages continued reform and vigilance at all levels of the Catholic Church, to help ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from harm.”

Burke also said the Vatican emphasizes the “need to comply with civil law,” including child abuse requirements.

“Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent,” Burke said.

By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor