In his strongest condemnation as yet of the rampant sexual-abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, on Friday (21 December), called on the predatory priests who have sexually abused minors to turn themselves in, and promised that the Church will “never” take allegations of abuse lightly again.
However it is not clear if Francis 's advice to predatory priests should be construed as an appeal to surrender to the Church judicial system, civil justice, or both.
Francis was delivering his customary Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration.
“To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” Francis vowed. “It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due. That must never happen again.”
Francis has come under fire for his apathetic response to gruesome revelations over the past year that thousands of Catholic priests sexually preyed on minors and adult seminarians. Francis has himself faced allegations of covering up their sexual crimes.
In August this year, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States, levelled serious allegations against Francis of not only wilfully covering up sex abuse allegations against disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for years, but also actively promoting him within the church hierarchy before accepting his resignation.
Theodore McCarrick finally resigned from the College of Cardinals last week after being accused of sexually abusing several children and adult seminarians over the past few decades. When asked he was aware of the allegations of abuse against minors and seminarians perpetrated by former Cardinal McCarrick, Francis said, “I will not say a single word on this,” and told reporters to “make your own judgement.”
Francis’s appeal assumes significance as it comes couple of months ahead of a summit on the sexual abuse crisis that will be attended by the heads of some 110 national Catholic bishops’ conferences and dozens of experts and leaders of religious orders in the Vatican. Francis will be holding global meeting of Catholic bishops to discussing steps to prevent clerical sex abuse, The unprecedented meeting of bishops is being perceived as an acknowledgement by the Vatican of the scale of the sex abuse problem, which can no longer be dismissed as a failing of a particular country or culture.
Francis expressed his gratitude to the media for their role in exposing abuse, chiding those who have accused the media of using the stories to smear the Church, calling the crisis a “scourge.”
“I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard. The Church asks that people not be silent but bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth.”
Catholic Church is in the midst of a grave crisis triggered by a series of clerical sexual abuse scandals. Investigations by authorities in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Australia, Germany, Chile, and other places nailed thousands of priests for sexually abusing children. The crisis has also triggered protests and calls for the resignation of the Pope, and has shaken the faith of millions of followers of the Roman Catholic Church around the world.
An Australian court recently convicted Cardinal George Pell, the third highest ranking official in the Catholic Church, on charges of sexually abusing two choir boys, Pell, who served as Vatican City’s de facto finance chief, was accused in hearings before the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of covering up abuse committed by priests when he served as the Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001.