Roman Catholic parishioners in Los Angeles heard a letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez in which he described newly released files on clergy sex abuse as "terribly sad and evil."
The archbishop's words were read by church leaders at Sunday Masses across the city, the Los Angeles Times reported. The letter was made public late last week.
Gomez said the church needs to acknowledge the "terrible failure" of its handling of abuse cases.
At St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, parishioner Eric Nielsen praised Gomez for addressing the issue.
"I take my hat off to the archbishop," said Nielsen, 52. "He got on the ball and did what needed to be done."
But Nielsen told the Times he would probably stop attending the church, where he's worshipped since 1981, because he was upset by the child abuse scandal.
"It's a shame," he said.
On Thursday, Gomez stripped his predecessor Cardinal Roger Mahony of his administrative duties for failing to take swift action against abusive priests.
In a letter posted on his personal blog Friday, Mahony challenged Gomez for publicly shaming him and said he developed policies to safeguard children after taking over in 1985, despite being unequipped to deal with the molester priests he inherited.
Mahony had apologized two weeks ago after another release of similar files showed he and other top aides worked behind the scenes to protect the church from the growing scandal, keeping offending clerics out of state and preventing public disclosure of sex crimes committed by priests.
Gomez's rebuke and Mahony's public response was unprecedented because it revealed infighting between two highly placed church leaders in a Roman Catholic hierarchy that rarely break ranks publicly, according to the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked for the Vatican's Washington, DC, embassy.
Following a court order, the church posted on its website tens of thousands of pages of the previously secret personnel files of 122 priests accused of molesting children.
In his letter, Gomez described the latest records to be made public as "brutal and painful reading."
"The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil," Gomez wrote. "There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed."
Outside Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, Donald L Kohles stood with a picket sign reading "Phony Mahony."
Kohles, who described himself as a devout Catholic, told the Times that "The church needs to be purified."