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Knights of Columbus leader urges church reforms after abuse

HARTFORD, Conn. – The leader of the largest Roman Catholic fraternal group condemns clergy sexual abuse and to call for reforms in the church, including a renewed commitment to celibacy by priests.

Carl Anderson, knight of the New Haven, Connecticut, on the basis of the Knights of Columbus, made the comments in what seemed to be an unusual letter to the group of almost 2 million members on Tuesday.

“These sins of commission and of omission have sent the Church we love, the Church we serve and the Church that Jesus Christ in convulsions,” Anderson wrote. “Unfortunately, the shame of not only being worn by the perpetrators, it touches all of us, just as the silence of the shepherds who have ignored the cries of their flocks.”

To be sure, the Knights of Columbus is not based on the sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the global roman Catholic Church in recent years.

The organization was sued in 2010 by two men who said a former leader of the Columbian Squires, the Knights’ official youth program, abused them in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s.

But at least one of those cases was dismissed after a judge determined that the limitation period had expired.

Anderson in his letter does not touch on those allegations and instead focused on the more recent revelations, including sexual abuse allegations against the retired archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, and a grand jury report accuses the leaders of the church with regard to the abuse of more than 1,000 children or teenagers by a 300-Catholic priests in Pennsylvania since the 1940s.

He said that the Knights of Columbus should be “committing to work for repentance, reformation and building up of the Church, including a full accounting of the abuse by the perpetrators.

“Archbishop McCarrick and blame others owe us a full report of their actions, motivations, and cover-ups,” Anderson wrote. “After years of us confess, now is the time for them to come clean about what they have done and what they have failed to do.”

He also wrote, “The sexual acts — both criminal and non-criminal — pointing to the need to restore the respect for and a renewed commitment to priestly promises of celibacy. … . In addition, the priests and the bishops who refuse to live according to their promises of celibacy should be removed from the public ministry, not out of retribution, but for the protection of the believers and to prevent future variants of the scandal that we now suffer.”

McCarrick has said that he is innocent. Two months ago, Pope Francis ordered McCarrick removed from public ministry amid allegations the 88-year-old retired archbishop of sexual abuse of a teenage altar boy and engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians decades ago. In the last month, the pope accepted McCarrick’s resignation as a cardinal, and ordered him to a “life of prayer and penance.”

In the wake of the grand jury report earlier this month on sexual abuse by Pennsylvania priests, Francis said Monday that “no effort should be spared” to the root of the priestly sex abuse and cover-up of the church. He begged for forgiveness for the pain suffered by the victims, and the criticism of the leaders of the church for being more concerned about their reputation than the safety of children.

Spokesmen for the Vatican on Wednesday not immediately return a message seeking a response to Anderson’s letter.

Anderson called for reforms, including a study of clergy sexual abuse by an independent commission which comprises the laity, transparency by the leaders of the church in all matters of criminal sexual misconduct, and an independent ethics hotline for reporting misconduct.

He also said that the Knights of Columbus in the coming days “will help renew our Church at the national level by a Novena of Masses in reparation for the sins which so severely injured the Body of Christ.”

Asked about the letter, Anderson said in a statement Wednesday, “At a difficult time for the Catholic Church, with so many loyal followers seeking guidance, it is important to encourage our pastors and laity to remain strong in their faith.”

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