Pope Francis

Pope Francis

December 9, 2013

In his clearest public reference as pope to the subject of clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis urged bishops to support abuse victims while also reaching out to priests who have "fallen short of their commitments."

The pope made his remarks Dec. 2 to bishops from the Netherlands making their first ad limina visits since they met with Blessed John Paul II in 2004.

The pope brought up sex abuse near the end of his talk.

"I want to express my compassion and assure my prayers to all victims of sexual abuse and their families; I ask you to continue to support them along their painful path of healing, undertaken with courage," he said.

It was Pope Francis' most explicit reference to clerical sex abuse, in public or in a statement released by the Vatican, since his election in March.

According to a 2011 report by a Dutch government commission, as many as 20,000 children may have been abused in the country's Catholic institutions between 1945 and 1981.