HARTFORD, Conn. — The leader of the world's largest Roman Catholic fraternal group is condemning clergy sex abuse and calling for reforms in the church, including a renewed commitment to celibacy by priests.
Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the New Haven, Connecticut-based Knights of Columbus, made the comments in what appeared to be an unusual letter to the group's nearly 2 million members on Tuesday.
"These sins of commission and omission have sent the Church we love, the Church we serve and the Church that Jesus Christ established into convulsions," Anderson wrote. "Sadly, the disgrace not only is borne by the perpetrators, it hurts us all, as does the silence of shepherds who have ignored the cries of their flocks."
To be sure, the Knights of Columbus hasn't been inoculated from the sex abuse scandal that's rocked the global Catholic Church in recent years.
The organization was sued in 2010 by two men who said a former leader of the Columbian Squires — the Knights' official youth program — abused them in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s.
Knights' spokesman Joseph Cullen said both cases were dismissed.
"Through our Office of Youth Protection, we have a model state of the art safe environment program," Cullen said. "We partner with a nationally known expert in this field and provide background checks, hotline services and training. We train thousands of our members on safe environment each year in which we make a 'duty to report' a first priority, just as we did in these two cases."
Anderson in his letter didn't touch on those allegations and instead focused on more recent revelations, including sexual abuse allegations against retired archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, and a grand jury report accusing church leaders of covering up the abuse of more than 1,000 children or teenagers by some 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania since the 1940s.
He said the Knights of Columbus must "commit to work for repentance, reform and rebuilding of the Church," including a full accounting of the abuse by the perpetrators.
"Archbishop McCarrick and others at fault owe us a full account of their actions, motivations and cover-ups," Anderson wrote. "After years of having us confess to them, it is now time for them to come clean about what they have done and what they have failed to do."
He also wrote, "The sexual acts — both criminal and non-criminal — highlight the need to recover a respect for and a renewed commitment to the priestly promises of celibacy. ... . Moreover, priests and bishops who refuse to live according to their promises of celibacy should be removed from public ministry, not out of retribution, but for the protection of the faithful and to prevent future variations of the scandal we now suffer."
McCarrick has said he is innocent. Two months ago, Pope Francis ordered McCarrick removed from public ministry amid allegations the 88-year-old retired archbishop sexually abused a teenage altar boy and engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians decades ago. Last month, the pope accepted McCarrick's resignation as cardinal and ordered him to a "life of prayer and penance."
In the wake of the grand jury report issued earlier this month on the sexual abuse by Pennsylvania priests, Francis said Monday that "no effort must be spared" to root out priestly sex abuse and cover-up from the church. He begged for forgiveness for the pain suffered by the victims, and criticized church leaders for being more concerned about their reputations than children's safety.
Spokesmen for the Vatican on Wednesday did not immediately return a message seeking a response to Anderson's letter.
Anderson called for reforms including an investigation of clergy sex abuse by an independent commission that includes laypeople, transparency by church leaders on all matters of criminal sexual misconduct and an independent ethics hotline for the reporting of misconduct.
He also said the Knights of Columbus in the days ahead "will help renew our Church on a national level through a Novena of Masses in reparation for these sins that have so grievously wounded the Body of Christ."
Asked about the letter, Anderson said in a statement Wednesday, "In a challenging time like this for the Catholic Church, with so many faithful followers seeking guidance, it is critical to encourage our chaplains and lay members to remain strong in their faith."