Pope Francis told a crowd of young people in the Estonian capital Tallinn on Tuesday that he understood that many of them were “upset” by the sexual abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church and that the institution had lost credibility as a result.
It was his first reference to the sex abuse crisis since arriving in the Baltic region on Saturday, and came on the same day as bishops in Germany released a damning report into abuse by Catholic priests in the country over the past seven decades.
“We know – and you have told us – that many young people do not turn to us for anything because they don’t feel we have anything meaningful to say to them,” the Pope said in Tallinn on the final day of his four-day Baltic tour.
“In fact, some of them expressly ask us to leave them alone, because they feel the Church’s presence as bothersome or even irritating. They are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young.”
Speaking in Italian, the Pope acknowledged that some young people feel the Catholic Church has lost credibility.
“When we adults refuse to acknowledge some evident reality, you tell us frankly: ‘Can’t you see this?’ Some of you who are a bit more forthright might even say to us: ‘Don’t you see that nobody is listening to you any more, or believes what you have to say?’”
He acknowledged that the Church must change if young people are to regain trust in the institution.
“We have to realize that in order to stand by your side we need to change many situations that, in the end, put you off,” the Pope said.
His words came in the midst of a renewed wave of outrage regarding child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, prompted by a series of damning reports revealing widespread abuse over decades in the US, Germany, Chile and Australia.
Pope Francis recently said he would meet with top Catholic officials from around the world in the Vatican in February to discuss the escalating scandal, but many abuse survivors remain disappointed with the Pontiff’s lack of action on the issue.
Delia Gallagher reported from Tallinn and Judith Vonberg wrote in London.