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Pope Calls For More 'Clerical Abuse' Help

FILE: Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis urged more help for victims of clerical abuse in developing countries Friday as he welcomed new members of his commission to protect children, which has been beset by problems.

On Friday Francis criticized the "poor handling" by leaders of the Catholic Church of what he called the "terrible scourge" of abuse.

"Do not become discouraged when it seems that little is changing for the better. Persevere and keep moving forwards!" he told the new members of the commission.

"You are using your skills and expertise to help repair a terrible scourge in the Church by working to assist the various particular churches" around the world, he said.

He cited in particular inequalities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where victims do not benefit from the same help, and where training programs for clergy are insufficient.

"It is not right that the most prosperous areas of the world should have well-trained and well-funded safeguarding programs, where victims and their families are respected," said Francis.

"While in other parts of the world they suffer in silence, perhaps rejected or stigmatized when they try to come forward to tell of the abuse they have suffered."

The Pontifical Commission has been hit by a series of problems since its creation, with two abuse survivors resigning from the organization in 2017, while in March its most influential member, Hans Zollner, also quit.

Zollner, the last remaining founding member, accused the commission of urgent issues related to compliance, accountability and transparency.

Francis has tried to strengthen the abuse commission by making it part of the Vatican office that processes clergy sex abuse cases, while it struck a new deal in April with the Vatican department responsible for evanglization.

The head of the so-called Dicastery for Evangelization, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, admitted at the time that communicating laws and guidelines imposed by the Vatican to churches in other regions was a challenge.

"The sexual abuse of minors by clergy and its poor handling by Church leaders has been one of the greatest challenges for the Church in our time," the pope said on Friday.

"Church leaders, who share a sense of shame for their failure to act, have suffered a loss of credibility, and our very ability to preach the Gospel has been damaged," he said.