Pope Francis
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds the Book of the Gospels as he meets Italian youth at the ancient Circo Massimo in Rome, Italy August 11, 2018. Reuters/Max Rossi/File Photo

Pope Francis has apologised to Catholics of the world for the child sexual abuse by priests. On Monday, the Vatican released a letter from the supreme pontiff, who acknowledged the Catholic Church’s failure to prevent its clerics from abusing minors.

The letter is the first of its kind in the history of the Church, according to the Vatican. It came after the US state of Pennsylvania’s grand jury reported that more than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused children over the course of seven decades. Only 1,000 children were identified, but it was feared there were thousands more.

“In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years,” his letter read. “Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realised that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death these wounds never go away.”

The pope continued, “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realising the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

Apart from penance and prayers, Pope Francis also promised “zero tolerance” implementation from then on, saying the Church would make perpetrators and those who help cover their crimes accountable.

“We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”

Pope Francis will meet with victims of sexual abuse by priests during his visit to Ireland on the weekend.

The issue of child sex abuse is an issue that has plagued the Catholic Church for so long. In Australia, former Archbishop Philip Wilson has recently been sentenced to home detention for covering up child sex abuse by paedophile priest Jim Fletcher in the ‘70s.

Last year, the pope’s Finance chief Cardinal George Pell was charged in Victoria with multiple historical sexual assault offences. He has denied all charges.