If this statement sounds a little late in coming, Pope Francis agrees. The pontiff told  commission fighting sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that the leadership “arrived late” to the issue, and that he’s had to learn the hard way that pedophilia and sexual predators cannot be pardoned. Francis admitted that he’d made a mistake in 2014 with a clemency action early in his pontificate, and that it would never happen again:

Pope Francis, in some of his most candid and personal comments on the sexual abuse of children by priests, said on Thursday that the Catholic Church had “arrived late” in dealing with the problem.

Francis, speaking in unscripted remarks to a commission advising him on how to root out sexual abuse, also acknowledged that early in his papacy he had made one bad call in being too lenient with an Italian priest who later went on to abuse again.

He also said he had decided to change current procedures for dealing with abusive priests by eliminating appeals trials in cases where there was definitive proof.

Christopher Lamb, writing at The Tablet, offers a little more background on the case to which Francis referred:

The Pope faced criticism earlier this year when it emerged he had softened a sentence of laicisation against Mauro Inzoli, 67, an abusive priest in the Diocese of Crema. Inzoli has since been laicised.

During his meeting with the commission the Pope admitted this was a mistake, confessing that he thought at the time he was dealing with matter in “the most benevolent way.” Francis added, however, that he learnt from this and would never do it again.

“Whoever is sentenced for sexual abuse of children can turn to the Pope for pardon,” but he stressed he had “never signed one of these and will never sign.”

Francis has come under criticism for more than just the one case. The commission has had a high-profile resignation from an abuse survivor, who accused the Vatican of interfering in their work to keep it from progressing. In March, Marie Collins accused the Vatican of “stonewalling” the commission, calling their actions “shameful,” while still considering Francis “sincere” in his desire to resolve the scandal and prevent it from happening in the future.

In his remarks, the pope insisted that a policy of “zero tolerance” would be enforced, from his office all the way down the hierarchy. Francis also appeared to corroborate Collins’ account, saying that the commission had to “swim against the tide”:

Pope Francis has endorsed an approach of “zero tolerance” toward all members of the church guilty of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults. ….

The Catholic Church has been “late” in facing and, therefore, properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members, the pope said, and the commission, which he established in 2014, has had to “swim against the tide” because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

“When consciousness comes late, the means for resolving the problem comes late,” he said. “I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality: We have arrived late.”

“Perhaps,” he said, “the old practice of moving people” from one place to another and not fully facing the problem “lulled consciences to sleep.”

That’s putting it mildly. Catholics in the US have been outraged by those practices, especially when they continued after the initial scandal broke. In our local archdiocese, for example, two bishops were removed in 2015 after another round of revelations over abuse and reporting violations emerged, the result of which was to force the archdiocese into bankruptcy. There has been a great deal of mistrust generated over these pledges, and the continuing failure to face the nature of this abuse and to protect parishioners from it.

That tide has turned somewhat, but there is still a long way to go in regaining that trust. This acknowledgment from Pope Francis is a good, solid step in the right direction, but it has to be followed up with firm enforcement of those zero-tolerance policies. Arriving late is bad enough, but failing to act on arrival is even worse.