HALIFAX — The Archbishop of Halifax says the Roman Catholic church is in crisis and there is an urgent need for change.
Archbishop Anthony Mancini has condemned new reports of sexual abuse by priests, saying he is "devastated" and "ashamed" by the scandal.
"It has shaken the foundations of many people's faith, including my own," he said in an interview Tuesday.
Mancini is the latest Catholic leader to condemn the phenomenon of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic church, after a report last week that found rampant sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by about 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70-year period.
"Today it is evident that the evil goes deeper than imagined and the need for change even more urgent," he said in a statement posted Monday.
Mancini said the allegations are felt closely in Nova Scotia, where a proposed class-action lawsuit was filed this month against his Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.
He said he empathized with those priests whose Catholic convictions have been rattled.
In an interview Tuesday with The Canadian Press, Mancini said that like all people of faith, he's been affected by confronting these disturbing truths within the church.
"When those priests or bishops or laypeople, whoever they may be, act in such an obvious unacceptable and totally contrary fashion to what the gospel is supposed to be about, you wonder, 'What's happening, what's happening to all of us, what's happening to me,'" said Mancini.
This is not the first time Mancini has publicly addressed the issue of abuse in the church. In his letter, Mancini noted he had said "enough is enough" in 2009 about the sex abuse scandal then facing the Nova Scotia church.
In his 11 years leading the archdiocese, Mancini said he's "seen it all" regarding the issue of sexual abuse in the church, including lawsuits, hearing victims' stories, and paying victims for damages suffered.
"I never expected to be a bishop who would spend so much of my time and energy cleaning up what Pope Benedict calls the 'filth' in the church, but that's what I've been doing," said Mancini.
But Mancini thinks discussion and prayer are essential to moving forward. This week, there have been meetings in local churches where he's joined people expressing their feelings and frustrations.
Mancini said listening to and believing victims is the only way forward.
"If you don't admit there's a problem you don't seek a solution ... we need to pay attention to the stories and the allegations from those who have been victimized," said Mancini.
"Now, we need to believe them."
In his letter, Mancini wondered why abuse was covered up and the church's image prioritized over the victims. He decried "the systemic failure of leadership."
Pope Francis issued a 2,000-word statement on Monday addressing the report, writing that the church "abandoned" the children affected and asking for forgiveness.
But Francis alone can sanction bishops and he offered no hint that he would change the Vatican's longstanding practice of giving religious superiors a pass when they botch abuse cases or are negligent in protecting their flocks.
He said he was aware of the "effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world" to ensure children are protected and hold accountable those who commit abuse and cover it up.
But he made no reference to what the Vatican plans to do, saying only: "We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future."
Francis' letter was viewed by abuse survivors as little more than recycled rhetoric that fails to acknowledge the Vatican's own role in turning a blind eye to predatory priests and fomenting a culture of secrecy that has allowed crimes to go unpunished for decades.
The class action lawsuit against the Halifax-Yarmouth Archdiocese was filed last month but has not been certified.
Mancini said his church will deal with the lawsuit as it unfolds and was open to the process if the resolution eventually contributes to victims' healing.
"It can be a step in the process of the healing of individuals, and if that helps them to heal, fair enough," said Mancini. "I'll be happy for that outcome, because in the end I'm more interested in the healing of victims and the people and getting on with the purposes for which we exist."
He encouraged all victims to come forward and share their stories, whether to himself and the church directly or to law enforcement.
"If you're afraid then deal with the fear first, but then get on with it and deal with the truth that you happen to be experiencing. That's what will make you free."
- By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L.
The Canadian Press