What we have read in the grand jury report detailing child sex abuse by Catholic priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses is horrific. It is shameful, criminal, and beyond all understanding.

As a lifelong Catholic, I find the shock and pain of this horrifying news personally beyond my comprehension.

The victims, the brave people who have found the strength and courage to come forward, have described to us not only their wounded bodies but the pain of their souls. They revealed deeply personal wounds and pains that they continue to live with every day – and will for the rest of their lives.

Their faith and trust in institutions and in people have been compromised by the trauma inflicted on them and the official responses to it – or lack thereof. For years the stories of their ordeals were put aside, relegated to the fringes, locked away and ignored by authorities.

And now, in the retelling and reliving of those horrors for the grand jury investigation, they demonstrate the courage it takes to expose their vulnerabilities to us all, perfect strangers. In asking them to come forward we ask them to find that sense of faith and trust they once had. We are asking them to place that trust in us, as individuals and institutions.

And in return, they ask us to not only find justice for their cause, but quite simply and most importantly, to do the right thing. They are trusting us to not fail them again. We owe it to them and to our collective sense of trust and faith, and what is good in each other, to do so.

At minimum, there must be swift legislative action to protect future victims from these horrific offenses. My husband has long supported legislative reforms to protect victims and provide recourse to the abused, including Rep. Mark Rozzi's legislation that would eliminate the criminal and civil statutes of limitation for victims reporting this most personal and shameful crime.

Our lawmakers and elected leaders must come together immediately to find agreement on legislative changes that would protect victims of all crimes – and particularly the youngest, most vulnerable survivors of these unfathomable abuses.

We failed these victims so badly for entirely too long. Now is our opportunity to do right. To make up for our transgressions of doing nothing in the past.

This is our penance. We cannot fail the victims now. Otherwise, we too are complicit.

Frances Wolf is the first lady of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.