Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Pope Francis on Monday acknowledged the failure of the Catholic Church to act on allegations of sexual abuse by priests against children.
His unusually forceful "Letter to the People of God" referred to a Pennsylvania grand jury report last week on sexual abuse by priests, and cover-up methods by church leaders in six Catholic dioceses in the state.
The pope's letter was issued Monday, after the pontiff made no mention of the grand jury report in his public sermon Sunday.
"In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years," the pope wrote in the letter. "The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.
"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."
The pope said Catholic Church leaders in general share in the blame.
"With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.
"We showed no care for the little ones."
He added that all Catholics must involve themselves in helping victims, to increase safeguards and to end a culture of cover-ups.
The grand jury report cited internal church documents that showed more than 300 credible sex abuse reports accusing priests and involving more than 1,000 children. Some of the documents were held in a secret archive for which only a diocesan bishop held the key, the report said.
On Thursday, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican Press Office, issued a statement saying the Catholic Church takes the grand jury's investigation seriously and "condemns unequivocally" the sexual abuse of minors.
The pope has come under increasing pressure to comment on the growing scandal.