Pope Francis prays for the victims of the Kerala floods during the Angelus noon prayer in St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Aug. 19, 2018. Pope Francis has issued a letter to Catholics around the world condemning the "crime" of priestly sexual abuse and cover-up and demanding accountability, in response to new revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church. Credit: Gregorio Borgia | AP

DUBLIN — Pope Francis said in a letter released Monday by the Vatican that the Catholic Church has not dealt properly with “crimes” against children and needs to prevent sexual abuses from being “covered up and perpetuated.”

“We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them,” Francis wrote.

The 2,000-word letter addressed to the “People of God” marks one of Francis’s most direct attempts to address the painful abuse cases that have eroded the Roman Catholic Church’s credibility and prompted sharp calls from inside and outside the church for improved accountability.

Francis did not lay out any concrete steps the Vatican would take, but he acknowledged that systemic change is needed.

“Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such [abuses] from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” Francis wrote.

[Opinion: The evil that flourished in Pennsylvania — behind church doors]

The letter was issued after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented alleged abuse in the state by more than 300 priests against 1,000 children over seven decades. This weekend, Francis will travel to Ireland, a country scarred by decades of sexual abuse in parishes and in Catholic-run schools. In Dublin, many have demanded that Francis acknowledge during his trip the role that church higher-ups played in silencing victims and helping to keep pedophile priests on the job.

Though the Catholic Church has been dealing for more than three decades with publicly known cases of abuse, new cases in recent months have caused a wave of anger among Catholics, who say the Vatican has been slow to make meaningful reforms.

In his letter, Francis specifically mentioned the Pennsylvania grand jury report, but he did not reference other scandals in the United States, Chile or Australia that have ensnared his papacy.

Francis said the Pennsylvania report reflected “abuse of power and of conscience.”

“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced,” Francis wrote. “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.”

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-871-7741.

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