Pope prays for victims of clergy abuse during service with bishops

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis prayed for the victims of clergy sex abuse during a service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle Wednesday.

He also praised U.S. bishops for their response to the sex abuse crisis and used his homily almost as a pep talk for bishops, telling them to be good shepherds of their flock.

Speaking before the roughly 300 bishops, Francis lauded them for what he called their “generous commitment to bring healing to victims.” He praised them for having courage and acting, as he saw it, “without fear of self-criticism.”

But he also prayed for the victims of abuse that has spanned decades at the hands of parish priests.

“We have to hope that such crimes will never repeat themselves,” he said.

The clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. in 2002 and turned into the biggest crisis in the history of the American church.

Under enormous public pressure, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to oust any guilty clergy from church work and enact safeguards for children.

However, the scandal persists, and victims say the bishops still haven’t fully accounted for sheltering abusers. This year, three bishops resigned in crises over their failures to protect children.

In his address to bishops, the pope also spoke out against abortion and against environmental devastation. He spoke on behalf of immigrants, too, and pushed a few other hot buttons. All in one sentence.

He said: “The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature _ at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.”

Such positions will likely be placed in front of Congress on Thursday when Francis addresses U.S. lawmakers.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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