‘Horrified’ and ‘ashamed’: Pope Francis condemns widespread sexual abuse of minors by priests over decades

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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN-- The head of the Catholic Church broke his silence on Monday to address allegations of sexual abuse within the clergy.

The jaw-dropping allegations include an explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania which found that as many as 301 priests in the state had sexually abused over 1,000 children over the past 70 years.

"I'm horrified. It's gut-wrenching. It's so sad. As a Catholic, I'm ashamed," Catholic Parishioner Ellen Ahmad told CNN.

In a letter to Catholic churches worldwide, Pope Francis acknowledged "the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse... perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons."

The pope also took a tough stance, demanding, "no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated."

"I am glad that he is coming out with this, and I'm glad that he is speaking out and calling it like it is," said Juan Carlos Cruz who admitted to being sexually abused by a priest in Chile.

The church`s abuse scandal also hit home. The Catholic Diocese of Dallas announced on Sunday it suspended the long-standing Rev. Edmundo Paredes of Oak Cliff`s St. Cecilia Catholic Church after three men came forward with what officials call credible accusations of sexual abuse at the hands of Paredes while they were teenagers.

Paredes also reportedly admitted to stealing money from the parish, but he has since fled. Church officials think he may be in his native country of the Philippines.

Dallas bishop Edward Burns told the congregation, "I offer my heartfelt apologies that these crimes have happened in your parish and please know I am praying for all victims of sexual abuse and for all of you here in the St. Cecilia community."

"We contacted two private investigators," Burn said in a press conference. "Now that we know of his criminal sexual acts, we want to get a handle on him."

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