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Catholics across US demand that guilty church leaders be held accountable

Catholics across the United States have demanded the the church hierarchy do more to combat sexual abuse among its members. Tourists (above) walk through St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Catholics across the United States are demanding that their church do more to combat sexual abuse among church leaders following a scathing report from Pennsylvania last month that detailed seven decades of sexual abuse by 300 priests.

What are they saying?

A national campaign, dubbed “Time’s Up: Catholics Demand Truth,” is urging the church to be transparent in investigating these accusations. The campaign is headed by Future Church, a progressive Catholic group that also calls for women in church leadership and the removal of the celibacy requirement for priesthood.

Nine progressive Catholic groups joined the campaign, launching a series of demonstrations in cities across the nation including New York City, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Christa Kerber, an activist with the movement, spoke about the high level of outrage after the recent reports of sexual abuse.

"As you know, we've been through this before," Kerber said, contrasting the level of enthusiasm with past claims of sexual abuse in the church. "Maybe it took this one to wake them up,"

Pope Francis told the bishops to stay strong

In a homily on Tuesday, Pope Francis spoke of the "elites" who criticized bishops and the "Great Accuser" who seeks to expose them to scandal.

In these times, it seems like the 'Great Accuser' has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The 'Great Accuser', as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, 'roams the earth looking for someone to accuse.' A bishop’s strength against the 'Great Accuser' is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.

In an Aug. 20 letter, Francis acknowledged the "atrocities" committed by priests and by the cover-up of their crimes.

"We showed no care for the little ones," he wrote. "We abandoned them."

However, by Aug. 26, former Papal Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò published a letter claiming that Pope Francis knew about abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and removed restrictions on him anyway.

What else?

Progressive Catholic groups are not the only ones speaking out.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said that he thought the accusations made by Archbishop Viganò against Pope Francis were “credible,” and urged church leadership to conduct a “thorough investigation.”

Strickland also announced that he would be instituting strict procedures in his own diocese to make sure that churches are safe places for everyone. An outside company has been called in, and Strickland said that if there's the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing, even in cases where no accusation had been made, his policy was "let's call the police just in case."

Catholic apologist Scott Hahn thanked Strickland for calling for an investigation.

“It seems like a good time to pray like never before,” Hahn said.

What does poll say about the church's image?

The sexual abuse scandals have continued to have a toll on the way Americans view the Catholic Church.

According to a YouGov poll, 54 percent of Americans now have an unfavorable view of the Catholic Church. Lapsed Catholics tended to be the most critical of the church, with 54 percent saying that they believed most or all Catholic bishops were aware of sexual abuse by priests.

Only 1 in 4 Catholics polled by YouGov said that they thought the church was handling the current scandal better than it had handled ones in the past.

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