Pope Francis has thanked journalists for their work on covering the Catholic church’s sexual abuse crisis, as he closes a three-day meeting on ways to protect the faith in journalism.
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The meeting came at a turbulent time for the Catholic church, after an unprecedented number of sex abuse cases were revealed in recent years. US bishops have been rocked by the abuse scandal, while others have reported allegations of child sexual abuse from several decades ago.
During the meeting Francis spoke about the failings of the Church, saying he had been eager to use the event to be “more frank and decisive”.
He said: “I believe that if you want to speak the truth and ask hard questions, you have an evangelising role, especially with young people. I feel personally abandoned by this church.”
In addition to the “Holy Father”, Francis opened the meeting with three other non-clerical guests, including the Franciscan monk Fr Paolo Andreotti, a former prime minister of Italy, which Francis had previously criticised as “not much more than a shop of sexual matters”.
Pope Francis greets guests during his audience on Wednesday. Photograph: Reza Aslan/EPA
Fr Andreotti described having spent “a lot of years” researching the matter and said he had been distressed and saddened by it. “This has touched me all my life. When you live with pain in the Church, you feel abandoned,” he said.
Francis has been under pressure to tackle the sex abuse scandal, but his efforts to address the issue have come under fire. He has approved a report by a commission that critics have accused of being toothless, and last week Pope Francis announced that all bishops would be encouraged to step down if they were accused of covering up abuse.
However, the move was immediately criticised by critics on the ground, while dioceses in the US, Malta and Australia have all expressed opposition to the move.
Although the meeting was opened by Francis, it was also attended by a selection of journalists who had written about and investigated the Church’s handling of sexual abuse scandals.
They met with journalists from Sky News, Der Spiegel, TVE, L’Osservatore Romano, Canale 5, RNI, Associated Press, BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera and Vatican Radio.