By Nicole Winfield | AP September 21
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday acknowledged the Catholic Church was “a bit late” in realizing the damage done by priests who rape and molest children, and said that the decades-long practice of moving pedophiles around rather than sanctioning them was to blame.
Francis met Thursday for the first time with his sex abuse advisory commission, a group of outside experts named in 2014 to advise him and the Catholic Church on best practices to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and protect children.
In his prepared remarks, Francis promised to respond with the “firmest measures possible” against sex abusers. He said bishops and religious superiors bore “primary responsibility” for keeping their flocks safe from abusive priests and would be held accountable if they are negligent.
But Francis also spoke off-the-cuff, admitting that the church’s response to the scandal was slow. Indeed, the Vatican for decades turned a blind eye to the problem and local bishops, rather than defrocking abusers, instead moved them from parish to parish, allowing them to abuse anew.
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