Ahead of a Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse, the top leadership of Catholic nuns and priests worldwide admitted to making "errors in judgment" regarding cases of sexual abuse of children and say that more women should be involved in the process of evaluating cases.
In a rare joint statement, the leaders of Major Superiors of Religious Orders and Congregations, who represent hundreds of thousands of Catholic nuns and priests around the world, said they "bow their heads in shame at the realization" the abuse of minors had taken place.
"We learned that those who abuse deliberately hide their actions and are manipulative," they wrote. "Our shame is increased by our own lack of realization of what has been happening."
"The response of those in authority has not been what it should have been. They failed to see warning signs or failed to take them seriously," wrote the group.
It also added that "the strong sense of family in our Orders and Congregations -- something usually so positive -- can make it harder to condemn and expose abuse."
"It resulted in a misplaced loyalty, errors in judgment, slowness to act, denial and at times, cover-up," they wrote.
The statement added that if women had been asked for their advice and assistance with abuse cases, presumably in their own organizations and within the Vatican, "stronger, faster and more effective action would have been taken," and "victims and their families would have been spared a great deal of suffering."
"We bow our heads in shame at the realization that such abuse has taken place in our Congregations and Orders and in our Church," the statement said. "We still need conversion and we want to change."
The statement comes ahead of a four-day summit on clerical sex abuse in Rome -- where nearly 200 church leaders from around the world convened by Pope Francis plan to seek solutions to the damaging clergy abuse crisis.
The leaders of Major Superiors of Religious Orders and Congregations also called the "exploitation of religious sisters, seminarians and candidates in formation houses" a "matter of grave and shocking concern."
"We pledge ourselves to do all in our power to find an effective response."
Nearly two weeks ago, Pope Francis acknowledged for the first time the rape and sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops inside the Catholic Church.
"I believe that it may still be being done. It's not a thing that from the moment in which you realize it, it's over. The thing goes forward like this. We've been working on this for a long time," he said during a press conference on a flight back from the United Arab Emirates.