We are sorry.

We, the Church, are the lay men, women and children; the religious who pray for us and work with us; the deacons, priests and bishops who lead us and bring us the divine graces of the Catholic sacramental system.

We, the Church, are sorry for the sexual abuse suffered by our brothers and sisters when they were young people at the hands of the Church’s clergymen and teachers. The Church is sorry for the sins and crimes of some members against other members. The Church begs forgiveness of our brothers and sisters, and of almighty God.

“We are sorry” are three words nearly as powerful as “I forgive you” or “I love you.” In each case, though, words are not enough. They must be accompanied by action.

It took the nationwide clergy sexual abuse scandal of 2002 and Philadelphia grand jury investigations in 2005 and just this month to prompt action in the Archdiocese and in every diocese in the United States. Those actions helped to train tens of thousands of parents and adults locally who work with children to spot signs of potential abuse, and prevent it from happening. Other actions set up ways to care for and compensate adult victims of abuse, and to remove from ministry and/or employment credibly accused Church personnel.

Even with those actions and new ones enacted by the Archdiocese last week, the problem of sexual abuse of minors is being addressed, albeit imperfectly, in only one sector of society, the Catholic Church. Youth sports organizations, public schools, community groups and other faith communities all report incidents of abuse. Few have been forced to look as extensively at the horror of child sexual abuse perpetrated within their organizations or to enact broad policies to prevent it.

The Catholic Church’s members suffer from the sins and crimes of the past and mistakes made in addressing them. But this suffering has meaning because it sheds light on the issue for all society to see. Every American must recognize that one in six boys and one in four girls are victims of sexual abuse before age 18. Child sexual abuse must be brought out from behind whispers in the community and dealt with as strongly or better than the processes now underway in the Church.

We, the Church, may find it hard to trust that the latest policies and actions will be effective. Trust begins to be rebuilt as members reflect upon those actions. And trust begins by reflecting on three words.

We are sorry.