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Pope Francis Condemns Alleged 'Atrocities' Committed by 300 Pennsylvania Priests

Pope Francis has issued a letter to Catholics around the world condemning alleged child sexual abuse carried out and covered up by more than 300 Catholic "predator priests" over the past 70 years. 

The pope's letter came less than a week after the release of a grand jury report that implicated hundreds of clergy members in the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children over the past 70 years across six Pennsylvania dioceses. 

The more than 1,300-page Pennsylvania Supreme Court report, which followed a two-year investigation, detailed alleged instances of rape, forced abortions and cover-ups of sexual abuse. 

GettyImages-485512689 Pope Francis leads the Way of The Cross at the Colosseum on April 18, 2014 in Rome, Italy. The pope has condemned alleged sexual abuse carried about by hundreds of 'predator priests.' Franco Origlia/Getty

In his letter, Pope Francis said it is "essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable." 

"The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity," the pope wrote, adding: "The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults." 

The pontiff called for accountability, including the implementation of "zero tolerance" policies  "and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable." 

"Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others," the pope wrote. "An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion."

While the pontiff said that "most of these cases belong to the past" he realizes "that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away."

"With shame and repentance," the pope said, "we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives."

The pope ended his letter by writing, "May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse, our compunction [or, guilt] and our resolve courageously to combat them." 

The report at the center of Pope Francis's letter has sparked widespread outrage, including calls for the pontiff to address the child sexual abuse scandal directly. 

Pennsylvania law has, for the past 55 years, required that all accounts of sexual abuse be reported to the police, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's report suggested that priests were sent to treatment clinics connected with the Catholic church instead in an apparent bid to cover up alleged sexual abuse against children.

The clinics mentioned in the grand jury's report had also been named in The Boston Globe's 2002 investigation on sexual misconduct by Boston Archdiocese priests. 

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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