PANAMA CITY - Pope Francis said on Saturday that the Roman Catholic Church was weary and “wounded by her own sin,” in an apparent reference to the sexual abuse crisis.
The pope made the comment in the homily of mass for priests, nuns and members of Catholic lay organisations in Panama City’s newly-renovated cathedral of Santa Maria Antigua, the first in mainland America, which was completed in 1716.
Pope Francis, who is in Panama for a global gathering of Catholic youth, has called a summit of the heads of national Catholic churches at the Vatican from February 21 to 24 to discuss what is now a global sexual abuse crisis.
The meeting offers a chance for him to respond to criticism from victims of abuse, that he has stumbled in his handling of the crisis and has not done enough to make bishops accountable.
In his homily, the pope spoke of “the weariness of hope (that) comes from seeing a church wounded by her own sin” and of a church “which so often failed to hear all those cries”.
He used the words “weary”, “wearisome” or “weariness” about 20 times in the homily.
Brenda Noriega, a youth minister from San Bernardino, California, who was in a delegation that had lunch with the pope, said she brought up the sexual abuse crisis in the US.
“The pope said it is a horrible crime. He reminded us that it is important to accompany the victims, to walk with them, and to be a united church,” she told reporters afterwards.
Last year was an “annus horribilis” for the pope, with abuse crises exploding in several countries, particularly Chile and the US.
Following accusations of a cover-up of abuse in Chile, all 34 of the country’s bishops offered their resignations. Pope Francis has so far accepted seven of them, but has also defrocked two Chilean bishops accused of molesting minors.
Last August, the church in the US was rocked by a damning grand jury report on the sexual abuse of children by priests in Pennsylvania over a 70-year period.
The pope has urged predator priests who have abused minors to turn themselves in, and has acknowledged that the church has made serious errors in the past.
Before leaving for Panama, Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti said a meeting between the pope and victims of clergy abuse was not on the schedule. On past trips, however, such meetings were announced only after they took place.
During the morning mass, the pope led an elaborate service in which he consecrated the basilica’s new altar, rubbing it down with holy oil and blessing it with incense.