Victims of sexually abusive priests from across the Americas joined forces Monday to urge Pope Francis to allow civilian justice to punish pedophiles and those who covered up their crimes.
From the United States to Argentina, Chile, Mexico and other nations, victims issued a letter made public in Mexico City telling the Argentine pontiff that "words are not enough." The letter said that only civilian trials and Church reform will put an end to the "great holocaust of thousands of boys and girls who were sacrificed to avoid scandal and salvage the image and prestige of the Catholic Church's representatives in the world."
The victims said the pope's recent admonishments of sex abuse in the Church are "ambiguous and contradictory" because they do not lead to any "institutional process toward truth and justice." The letter was read by Jose Barba, one of the victims of Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the ultra-conservative Legion of Christ order who died in 2008.
Pope Francis has called for "zero tolerance" of abusive priests since his election in March 2013.
He has asked victims for forgiveness, pledged to combat pedophilia and formed a Church child protection panel.
This month, he issued a strongly-worded letter to bishops warning Roman Catholic clergy they must never try to cover up sexual abuse.
He has also intervened in cases like one in Spain that saw 10 priests accused of sexually abusing an altar boy.
While the pope voiced "great pain" and ordered a church investigation into the case, a Spanish court dropped charges against nine of the clergymen because the accuser waited too long to bring the charges.
At the press conference in Mexico City, some of the victims questioned the pope's commitment to fighting pedophilia in the Church.
"We demand that the pope, at the very least, live up to his word because we can all make headlines. Enough with the headlines," said Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim who said he feld "deeply betrayed" by the pontiff.
Julieta Anazco of Argentina said that when Francis was known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, he "never received anybody," despite requests by victims to meet him.
"We are all very sad and losing hope. We have asked for something effective to be done. We want (abusive priests) to be removed and tried" in criminal court, said Anazco, who was abused by a priest at a Church-sponsored summer camp in the 1980s.
The network of victims from the Americas said that the pope's predecessor, Benedict XVI, secretly suspended 400 priests for abusing children, and that they faced Vatican justice without the testimony or knowledge of the victims and their lawyers.
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said via video conference from the United States that Pope Francis should follow the recommendations of the United Nations, which said last year that the Church violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.