LOURDES, France (AP) — France's Roman Catholic Church is trying to make amends for years of silence surrounding pedophilia among priests with a day of prayer and fasting for victims of sex abuse — and to fix the problem, notably with a prevention program for priests.
Bishops who gathered in the town of Lourdes, a leading pilgrimage site, for their biannual plenary assembly prayed on Monday "for forgiveness for the sins committed by clergy members."
During a Mass at the Rosary basilica, Bishop Luc Crepy gave the homily, exhorting his peers to play their part in "this fight against scandalous and criminal actions."
Crepy, who was appointed earlier this year as the head of a church panel targeting pedophilia, announced a series of measures to fight child sexual abuse, including giving victims a voice and an ear, and a means to confide an act of pedophilia against. A prevention program starting in seminaries where young men are being trained for the priesthood and extending into individual dioceses is in the process of being set up. Legal procedures in the event a priest is accused of pedophilia are to be taught.
A national commission of independent experts, including doctors, to counsel bishops in the evaluation of priests "who have committed reprehensible acts" has been working on nine cases since its installation in September, Crepy told the gathering of bishops. The goal of the commission is "to avoid the risk of repetition and assure the best possible conditions of security of youth within church structures," he said.
"The church is sick and will remain sick from all those who fault and in the end betray the confidence of young people and children," Crepy said on BFM-TV.
Crepy cited Pope Francis' call in June for the Church to be vigilant in the protection of the young, "like a loving mother."
Following a call from the pope to hold a worldwide day of prayers for victims, the French church said meetings about pedophilia would be held in Lourdes, as well as Masses across the country.
Several French church officials have been accused in recent months of failing to report pedophile priests to judicial authorities. In August, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin was cleared of allegations he shielded a priest charged with sexual aggression and rape of a minor.
Barbarin was questioned in June by investigators in the case of the Rev. Bernard Preynat, a priest accused of abusing boy scouts in the 1980s. Barbarin said he was convinced the priest had reformed in 2007-2008 when they met.
Preynat retired in August 2015 after being relieved of his duties by the diocese. He was charged in January with sexual aggression of minors for a person in a position of authority.
In May, Francis expressed support for Barbarin, one of the highest-ranking prelates in the French Catholic Church, saying he shouldn't resign.
Elaine Ganley and Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed.