"In the name of the order, I acknowledge with shame and guilt our failure", Fr Stefan Dartmann SJ, the German Jesuit provincial. said today. "I ask for forgiveness".
His comments came as the Society of Jesus released a report into abuse at its schools over many decades. The report, which records 205 allegations against priests in Jesuit schools dating back to the 1950s, was commissioned in January after 25 former students at the Jesuit-run Canisius College alleged sexual abuse.
The special investigator, Ursula Raue, said she thinks the number is even higher, as "we cannot expect to have heard everything yet." She said 46 Jesuits and non-clerical staff at the schools have been accused of abuse or of knowing of such crimes without acting. A dozen priests have been accused; six of them are dead.
"There was a widespread mentality in the order, and perhaps still is, that the primary concern was the reputation of the institution and its fellow brothers", said Fr Dartmann, at the left of the picture.
The Jesuits' decision to order an investigation to flush out all the allegations -- rather than waiting for the painful drip-drip of abuse victims stepping forward one by one -- is a wise one, and sets an example for other religious orders worldwide.
Coincidentally, Pope Benedict XVI said this morning that the Church "does not conceal the wounds inflicted on the ecclesiastical community by the weakness and sins of some of its members".
He is expected to issue his own mea culpa -- and possibly new guidelines on abuse applicable to all dioceses worldwide -- sometime between 9 and 12 June at the meeting in Rome of priests from across the world.