The largest organization of women religious in the United States says the latest clergy sex abuse reports have left it "sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve."
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of U.S. sisters, issued a statement Aug. 20 in response to a grand jury report from Pennsylvania that more than 300 priests sexually assaulted at least 1,000 victims over 70 years, most of which bishops covered up.
"We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own," the LCWR statement reads. "We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable."
The grand jury report has created a national backlash to the abuse scandal, with many calling for major changes in the structure and culture of the church itself.
"Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence," LCWR leaders wrote. "Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.
"We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis," the statement says. "It is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends."