VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has issued a letter to Catholics around the world condemning the "crime" of priestly sexual abuse and cover-up and demanding accountability, in response to new revelations in the United States of decades of misconduct by the Catholic Church.

Francis begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and said lay Catholics must be involved in any effort to root out abuse and cover-up. He blasted the self-referential clerical culture that has been blamed for the abuse crisis, with church leaders more concerned for their reputation than the safety of children.

Francis wrote: "We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them."

The Vatican issued the letter Monday, ahead of Francis' trip this weekend to Ireland that is expected to be dominated by the abuse crisis.

Among the 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania accused of molesting more than 1,000 children are several with connections to New Jersey parishes and communities. One New Jersey priest was accused of collecting young girls' urine and menstrual blood and drinking it.

 

Among the priests with New Jersey connections was the Rev. John P. Connor, who was arrested in 1984 and admitted to molesting a 14-year-old child.

The grand jury report says the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office allowed Connor to admit to the molestation and let him go with not even a record of his arrest if he remained out of trouble for a year. The office did not immediately return an emailed request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The grand jury heard from victims who are now well into adulthood but whose wounds of abuse remain as painful as ever.

One of the New Jersey victims — one of the sisters who Father Augustine Giella preyed upon to feed his urine and blood fetish — suffered a panic attack before her testimony and attempted to commit suicide after shortly after providing her testimony.

"Even though she had almost lost her own life, the victim's primary concern was a fear that in the intervening months since her testimony, the Grand Jury's investigation may have stopped and that the truth would never be told to the public," the grand jury said in its report. "She was assured it was still an active investigation."

The full details for four priests with Jersey ties is reprinted here. In addition to the four priests, others from Pennsylvania are accused of victimizing youngsters on trips to the Jersey Shore.

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