SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KTVU) - The Vatican Thursday, condemned reported sex abuse by Pennsylvania priests, calling the actions "criminal and morally reprehensible."
"Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and faith," said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke in a statement, adding victims should know that Pope Francis is on their side.
The response comes two days after a Pennsylvania Grand Jury released a report detailing 70 years of abuse, alleging more than 1,000 children were molested by Catholic priests with senior church officials in the state and at the Vatican taking steps to cover it up.
"The church spent a lot of time protecting the clerical offenders. Bishops were not held to any accountability. All of that was a recipe for disaster," said Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University.
Plante served on the National Review Board for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He says in 2002, the church instituted new mandated procedures and ordered an annual independent audit for all diocese.
"A lot of things changed after 2002 and the good news with that is the number of cases after 2002 really tanked like a rock," said Plante. "The good news is policies and procedures are in place over the last 15 years or so that are working."
Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced its calling for lay investigators to take part in a Vatican-led probe into allegations of sexual abuse by former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The head of the church organization also announced goals to make reporting of abuse easier and to have better procedures to resolve complaints against bishops.
The group says one root cause of the many abuses was the failure of leadership.
"This is a moral catastrophe," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the President of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, in a statement. "We firmly resolve, with the help of God's grace, never to repeat it."
Melanie Sakoda with the Bay Area chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says while she welcomes more involvement from people outside the church she hope for even more change.
"You know they're fine words but what they need is action....one of the actions is to start removing the people who covered it up," said Sakoda.