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A Pennsylvania grand jury has found that more than 300 clergy members committed sexual abuse over a period of decades. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says the probe found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials. (Aug. 15)
AP

After two days of deafening silence, the Vatican on Thursday condemned newly revealed sex abuses that raged for decades in six dioceses in Pennsylvania as “criminal and morally reprehensible.”

“Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and faith,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement, adding that the victims should know Pope Francis is on their side.

Until Thursday, the Vatican had declined to address the allegations from a scathing 884-page grand jury report about the abuse.

The report, released Tuesday, alleges that more than 300 “predator priests’’ had been accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 kids over a period of 70 years. The Catholic Church had engaged in a “systematic cover-up’’ while shifting the abusive priests from one parish to another, the report says.

The details of the report have horrified members of the church and non-Catholics alike with stunning revelations: a priest molested a 7-year-old girl during a visit to a hospital where she had her tonsils removed; priests shared naked photos of abuse victims; a priest arranged an abortion after impregnating a girl he had raped; a priest got a reference letter for a Disney World job after years of complaints about his abusive acts.

The grand jury also said the number of abused children was in the thousands, but some records have been lost and many of the victims did not come forward because they were intimidated or persuaded to stay quiet while the church shielded the abusers.

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“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,’’ the grand jury wrote.

Francis, who became the leader of the Catholic Church five years ago, has been criticized in the past for not addressing forcefully enough the issue of clergy sexual abuse.

More: ‘Men of God hid it all’: Church protected more than 300 ‘predator priests’ in Pa., grand jury says

More: Pope Francis accepts Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s resignation amid sex scandal

More: Pennsylvania priest recommended for Disney World job after sexual abuse allegations, grand jury finds

As recently as May, the director of a new documentary about the pope portrayed him as deeply disturbed by the sex abuse crisis.

“Each time, this was the most agitated and the most furious he got, and you realized it was something that tormented him so much,’’ said Wim Wenders, who directed “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word.” “He really got very adamant: ‘Tolerencia cero.’ ‘Zero tolerance’ was really from the heart. It was the angriest thing he said in the entire interview.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had sent Francis a letter in July warning him that his office’s 18-month investigation has discovered “widespread sexual abuse of children and a systematic cover-up by leaders of the Catholic Church,’’ CNN reported.

The Vatican never responded.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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