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Pope Francis asks for forgiveness on Church's sex-abuse scandal — but is it enough?

Pope Francis with children and their families in December 2013 at the Pediatric Dispensary of Santa Marta
Pope Francis with children and their families in December 2013 at the Pediatric Dispensary of Santa Marta
Franco Origlia/Getty

Pope Francis, less than a year after taking office, has made an unusually strong statement acknowledging the sex-abuse scandal that has troubled the Catholic church for decades. But it's not clear that this is enough to address the damage the scandal has caused to followers' trust in the church.

Thousands of minors were molested by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002. Reports show that high-ranking officials actually knew about the abuse, but failed to hold the guilty priests accountable. The scandal — and its cover-up — "shellshocked" the American church, according to Andrew Sullivan: "Many Catholics will never feel the same way they once did about this institution." In a Pew poll published in March 2013, 34 percent of US Catholics said that sex abuse was the most important issue facing the Catholic Church.

This week, Francis made his strongest statement yet about the abuse. In a speech to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, he asked forgiveness for the wrongs of the guilty priests. "The Church is aware of this damage," he said. "It is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church." Francis insisted "the Church will not take one step backward" in dealing with this problem.

Some members of the Church have been asking Francis to issue a clear apology since he became Pope. "The only proper response," wrote Father Thomas Reese, "is ‘I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry.'"

And some critics aren't satisfied with Francis' new apology. A statement prepared by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests claimed that there is a difference between words and deeds, and urged Catholics to be impressed only by deeds: "On church governess, church finances, and simple living, [Francis] acts. On the rape of children he talks."