Francis on Friday dedicated his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican bureaucracy to abuse, evidence that a year of devastating revelations has shaken his papacy and caused a crisis of confidence in the Catholic hierarchy.
Francis acknowledged that the church in the past had failed to treat the problem seriously, but vowed that going forward, it would never cover up or dismiss cases again.
He urged victims to come forward and issued a stark warning to abusers: “Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
While it was not immediately clear if the pope was referring to the Church judicial system, civil justice, or both, Vatican sources believed it was the first time the pope had made such a direct appeal.
Francis, who in the past has used the Christmas address to denounce cases of corruption and mismanagement in the Curia, this time 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 seriously any case,” he said.
He 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.
“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. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church,” he said.
The pope has summoned the heads of some 110 national Catholic bishops’ conferences and dozens of experts and leaders of religious orders to the Vatican on February 21-24 for an extraordinary meeting on the sexual abuse crisis.
Victims of clerical sexual abuse are hoping that the meeting will finally come up with a clear policy to make bishops themselves accountable for the mishandling of abuse cases.