by: Tenikka Smith Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Pope Francis apologized to victims of sex abuse by clergy members.
The pope also asked for forgiveness that some church leaders did not adequately handle reports of sex abuse made by family members or victims themselves.
David Hains, spokesperson for the Diocese of Charlotte, said the pope's message is a part of the church's ongoing effort to be accountable and protect children.
"We're very serious about preventing this issue from occurring. We're very serious about making people aware children need our protection they are innocent," Hains said.
The pope's apology, comes days after a judge threw out a civil lawsuit against the Diocese of Charlotte from accusers who claim they were abused by Father Joseph Kelleher and Father Richard Farwell more than 30 years ago. The suit was thrown out because the statute of limitations ran out and the judge ruled it was too late to file the claim. A criminal case against Kelleher was also dismissed because the judge ruled the defendant was incompetent to proceed in a trial. Kelleher was accused of abusing a 14 year-old at a church in Albemarle in 1977.
The Charlotte leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told Eyewitness News the pope's apology is not enough.
"The Catholic diocese and other high ranking church officials make statements but never follow up with action. If the pope wanted to do something that would help protect children, he should have announced punishments for implicit bishops who have covered up sex crimes for years,” David Fortwengler said.
Hains said the Diocese of Charlotte has been proactive since the 1990s with sex abuse awareness training, background checks and re-checks for nearly 100,000 diocese employees and volunteers in western North Carolina in the last decade.
"We're upfront to everybody who works for the diocese that this problem will not be tolerated. We have a zero-tolerance policy,” Hain said.
The Charlotte chapter of SNAP is planning to protest outside the Charlotte diocese Tuesday morning in response to the pope's apology and the recent dismissal of the abuse cases against the two local priests.