Pope adviser says systematic reforms needed to address abuse

 (CNS/Dermot Roantree, Irish Jesuit Communications)

ROME (AP) — One of Pope Francis' top advisers warned Friday that the Catholic Church risks increased police and government intervention if it doesn't address the clergy sex abuse scandal with system-wide reforms about the way power and sexuality are expressed.

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx told a conference on child protection that the church's "weak excuses" to dismiss, minimize or cover-up abuses were no longer acceptable to the faithful, and that anyone who uses them is actually complicit in the crimes of the perpetrators.

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Marx welcomed public pressure to force reforms, and said the church must have a "frank discussion" about abuse of power among its leaders, and homosexuality, celibacy and training for priests, among other issues, if it wants to emerge from the crisis and regain its lost credibility.

"If no corrective action is taken by the church — and we are working on it, we must work on it — the state has no other choice but to intervene," Marx said, referring to increased civil law enforcement investigations of church leaders in places like Chile, the United States and elsewhere.

"If no corrective action is taken by the church — and we are working on it, we must work on it — the state has no other choice but to intervene," Marx said.

Marx's blunt comments at the Pontifical Gregorian University came as Francis' papacy has been reeling from new revelations of sex abuse and cover-up around the world that have also implicated him personally. The revelations have led to a crisis of confidence in the Catholic leadership just as the Vatican has convened more than 250 bishops to discuss how to better minister to young people.

Marx spoke out following the release of a devastating church-commissioned report into decades of abuse and cover-up in the German church. The report found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014, and that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders.

The German findings were significant because the researchers concluded that there were structural risk factors within the Catholic Church as an institution that "favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult."

Blaming the media for attacking the church, or thinking that sex abuse is a one-off problem by individual priests, are excuses that are simply no longer acceptable to the public, he said.

Marx is one of the most influential cardinals in the church today: In addition to being the president of the German bishops' conference, he sits on Francis' group of nine cardinal advisers and heads the Vatican's council for the economy — essentially the Holy See's financial board of directors.

He said the church must address the systematic and systemic issues that make it vulnerable to having abusers in its ranks — including issues of canon law, governance and how bishops are held accountable — if it wants to regain its lost credibility.

Blaming the media for attacking the church, or thinking that sex abuse is a one-off problem by individual priests, are excuses that are simply no longer acceptable to the public, he said.

"It is also worth noting that those who use these excuses are equally guilty of causing the suffering of victims and become accomplices in some way with the perpetrators," he added.

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