On Friday, Pope Francis urged predator priests who have sexually abused minors to turn themselves in, making one of his strongest comments ever on the crisis sweeping the Roman Catholic Church.
This is the first time that any Pope has directly addressed the issue of widespread abuse of minors within the Catholic Church in such strong terms. But it remains unclear whether the pope wants predatory ministers of the church to turn themselves over to the civil authorities or does the Catholic Church desire to solve these issues with their own hearings and justice system.
“To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” Pope Francis said in his traditional Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration.
He spoke two months before an extraordinary 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.
Pope Francis has previously used the Christmas address to denounce cases of corruption and mismanagement in the Curia. This time, he concentrated on the global sexual abuse crisis.
“Let it be clear that, faced with these abominations, the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take any case seriously” he said.
When the pope has made similar promises of zero tolerance in the past, victim groups have scoffed, saying the Church has to come up with a clear policy to make bishops themselves accountable for the mishandling of abuse cases. The groups say the February meeting must do precisely this.
In his address, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Church had made serious errors in the past but promised to make “past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge” from both the Church and society at large.