Catholic Church 'arrived late' in confronting clergy abuse, Pope Francis admits

Pope Francis surprised members of a commission which advises him on how to handle cases of sexual abuse committed by priests by doing away with his prepared speech on Sept. 21 and candidly admitting that the Catholic Church has been quite late in confronting the problem.

(Osservatore Romano / Handout via REUTERS)Pope Francis poses with members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors during the meeting at the Vatican, September 21, 2017.

On Thursday, Pope Francis acknowledged that he made the mistake early on in his papal term by being a bit lenient with an Italian priest who repeated his abusive acts. He said he has decided to do away with appeals trials in abuse cases where there is definitive proof against a priest, Reuters relayed.

"There is the reality that the Church arrived at the consciousness of these crimes a bit late," Pope Francis told the commission. "When consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problems also arrive late. I am aware of this difficulty but it is reality and I say it plainly: We arrived late."

In addition, he said the old practice of just transferring the involved priests instead of dealing directly with the problem only "made consciences fall asleep." He acknowledged the high level of defections in the commission due to the lack of progress in the abuse cases.

In the foreword of a book titled "Father, I Forgive You: Abused But Not Broken" by Daniel Pittet, Pope Francis called child sexual abuse by priests a "monstrosity." He also vowed to bring the perpetrators and the bishops who protected them to justice, Reuters said in a separate report.

Moreover, the pope denounced sexual abuse as a "terrible sin" that goes against all the teachings of the Catholic Church. He expressed grave concern over the fate of the children who suffered abuse at the hands of priests, especially those who committed suicide.

The Catholic Church has been hit with a wave of reports about clergy abuse and how bishops had just kept on moving the abusers to new assignments instead of stripping them of their ranks. Since then, thousands of incidents of abuse have surfaced worldwide as victims who have long stayed quiet have been encouraged to come forward with their allegations.