Pope Francis calls on priests who abuse minors to hand themselves over

Pope Francis looks on as he leads an audience to exchange Christmas greetings with members of the Roman Curia in Clementine Hall at the Vatican Dec. 22, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In his annual pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis appealed to “those who abuse minors,” saying: “Be converted and hand yourselves over to human justice, and prepare yourselves for the divine justice.”

His address this year concerned how the the church should handle the sex abuse crisis. “Let it be clear that in the face of these abominations the church will not hold back anything in doing all that is necessary to bring to justice whoever has committed these crimes. The church will never try to cover up or to underestimate any case.”

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Be converted and hand yourselves over to human justice, and prepare yourselves for the divine justice.

The pope also acknowledged the past failures of leaders in the church to respond adequately to cases of abuse. “It’s undeniable that some persons in positions of responsibility, in the past, through a light-handed way [of doing things], or out of incredulity, or due to a lack of preparedness, or [because of] inexperience and spiritual and human superficiality, treated many cases without the necessary seriousness and promptness.”

Pope Francis said: “This must never happen again. This is the choice and decision of the whole church.”

Pope Francis said that for many years the church has been “seriously committed to rooting out the evil of abuses,” and noted that “God...does not ever forget the suffering lived by many minors because of clerics and consecrated persons: abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual.”

Pope Francis thanked the media for its role in uncovering sex abuse in the church, and appeared to distance himself from the media’s critics. He noted that “some within the church have railed against some media operators, accusing them of ignoring the 98 percent of the cases of abuse that are not committed by clerics, and of intentionally wishing to give a false image as if this evil only hit the Catholic church.”

Speaking on his own behalf, he said: “I instead wish to strongly thank those media operators that are honest and objective and that have sought to unmask those wolves and give voice to the victims.” He added, “even if one was dealing only with just one case of abuse—which of itself represents a monstrosity—the church asks not to keep silent but to bring it objectively to light, because the greatest scandal in this matter is that of covering up the truth.”

This must never happen again. This is the choice and decision of the whole church.

Pope Francis said abuses of power by consecrated men has hurt the church. “They do not fear God or his judgment, but fear only to be discovered and unmasked,” he said. The pope continued, saying that these men “lacerate the body of the church, causing scandals and discrediting the saving mission of the church and the sacrifice of so many of their brothers.”

He appealed to members of the Roman Curia for help in addressing sex abuse in the church. “Please, let us help Holy Mother Church in this difficult task,” he said, “that of recognizing the true cases (of abuse) and distinguishing them from the false ones, the accusations of calumny, the rancor of insinuations, the rumors of defamation.”

In his address, Pope Francis also talked about the meeting of the presidents of all the bishops’ conferences for Feb. 21 to 24 he has called to focus on the protection of children in the church. Drawing on the input of experts, he said “the church will ask herself how to protect children; how to avoid such disasters; how to care for and integrate the victims; how to reinforce the formation in seminaries.”

The pope said the church will seek to address abuse in wider society. The church “will not limit herself to curing self, but she will seek to face this’ evil that causes the slow death of so many persons, at the moral, psychological and human level,” he said.

Drawing near the end of his more than 30 minute-talk, Pope Francis talked about the tasks ahead of the church. “The strength of any institution does not reside in its being composed of perfect people (that is impossible),” he said, “but in the will to purify oneself continually; in the capacity to humbly recognize and correct errors; in the ability to get up again after the falls; in seeing the light of Christmas that starts from the manger in Bethlehem, goes through history and arrives at the Parousia”—the second coming of Christ.

The church will ask herself how to protect children; how to avoid such disasters; how to care for and integrate the victims; how to reinforce the formation in seminaries.

The pope said Christmas “gives us the certainty every year that the light of God will continue to shine notwithstanding our human misery: and the certainty that the church will emerge from these tribulations, still more beautiful and purified and splendid.”

This is so, Pope Francis said, “because all the sins, falls and the evil committed by some sons of the church cannot ever obscure the beauty of her face, rather they give the certain proof that her strength is not in us, but above all in Jesus Christ, the savior of the world and the light of the universe, who loves her and has given his life for here.”

Pope Francis concluded on a note of hope.“Christmas is the feast that fills us with joy and gives us the certainty that no sin will ever be greater that the mercy of God,” he said, “and that no human act can ever prevent the dawn of the divine light being born and reborn in the hearts of people.”

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John Chuchman
5 months 4 weeks ago

Turn yourselves in so Bishops will not need to be accountable.

John Chuchman
5 months 4 weeks ago

Turn yourselves in so Bishops will not need to be accountable.

J Cosgrove
5 months 4 weeks ago

Is this distracting from the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Namely, lack of obedience to the vow of chastity which certainly includes abuse of minors but other things as well.

Robert Lewis
5 months 4 weeks ago

It is a vulgar, materialist and profoundly anti-spiritual view of "chastity" that it can only be lived out in the contexts of either a connubial, heterosexual relationship, or celibacy. Must one assume that the kings and prophets of Old Testament Judaism were incapable of "chastity" because they were polygamous? Are Muslims "unchaste" when they have more than one wife, but are sworn to love all wives equally, as the Qu'ran dictates? Chastity is a spiritual virtue that is not the same as celibacy. What it simply means is that any sexual relationship, or sexual state of being (as, for instance, celibacy) is lived out in a self-sacrificial way, so as to treat the object of one's affections with dignity, as befits a creature of God, and a "temple of the Holy Spirit." What the Catholic Church will have to come to grips with--and soon, in the West--is that most modern Catholics have realized that same-sex-love can and should be affirmed, when it is lived out "chastely," and that means that, in their proper contexts, some of those relationships might include sexual activity, just as some (not all) heterosexual couplings are "chaste," as well. It is the modern Church's crucial responsibility to devise a way in which same-sex pairings might be ordered toward chastity, but at the same time legitimized and publicly accepted, so that the original affirmation of Genesis be maintained: "It is bad for man to be alone."
The Church's priest scandals have absolutely nothing to do with the sexual orientations of the predators; they are the result of the SECRECY which dictated that same-sex-attracted priest candidates for the sacerdotal role be coerced by an amoral system of formation into LYING about their natural affections, whereas simple public honesty with the clerical and lay public, as well as resolve to adhere to their vows, would have mightily contributed to wholly disallowing abuse of minors or young adults. There have been countless same-sex-attracted priests who exemplified heroic sanctity in their allegiance to their service to the Roman Catholic Church, e.g. Henry Nouwen, Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J., Father Michael Judge, James Alison, etc. etc.

Dutch Brewster
5 months 3 weeks ago

The practice of homosexuality is a sin. The orientation to members of the same sex is a defect produced by the fallen nature. Trying to rationalize it sabotages spiritual growth and could sabotage one's salvation. There are other sexual sins. Rationalizing them can produce the same negative effects.

It's tough to be a Christian. We all have something we have to give up to get nailed to the cross.

Robert Lewis
5 months 3 weeks ago

What is “the practice of homosexuality”? Is it any physical expression of affection between individuals of the same sex? Well, whatever it is, I am not, for purposes of this discussion, interested in it. What I am principally interested in is affirmation—and, necessarily PUBLIC affirmation—of same-sex-attracted people’s status as members of the Apostolic Churches, and Children of God.
Also, please consider this: if a “deviant” (non-pejorative usage) sexual orientation is to be deemed a “cross,” then that means that it is as much an instrument of salvation—a mechanism, if you will, of heroic sanctification—as any other spiritual discipline. And if that is so, it is as entitled to public, Churchwide honoring as any other vocation; if you want young Catholics to adhere to Church teachings about sexual morality, you had better offer their gay friends, whom they have come to love and respect, something to live for and an honest and open lifestyle in which to live. Without that, and without decent respect for what modern science is telling us about the etiology of homosexuality, your message seems as hateful as historical justifications of slavery.

John Barbieri
5 months 4 weeks ago

More fine words!
Deeds...Not so much.

John Barbieri
5 months 4 weeks ago

Computer error

John Barbieri
5 months 4 weeks ago

Computer error

Steve Magnotta
5 months 4 weeks ago

Amen, Papa.

Michael Barberi
5 months 4 weeks ago

I hope many priests, bishops and cardinals who are guilty of the sexual abuse of minors or adults or have covered it up, will speak up. From the many investigations by States Attorneys General it appears thousands of clergy may have sexually abused minors over the past 40 years, and many bishops have covered it up. I hope they will take the words of Pope Francis to heart.

Michael Uschan
5 months 4 weeks ago

I love the Pope but his recommendations ridiculous. If they abused children and covered it up for years or decades they are not going to come forward now. The church has to change even more ... or it will die.

Frank Pray
5 months 3 weeks ago

If a person has reason to believe a priest has molested a child, he should promptly report it for criminal investigation. I don’t understand why the Pope thinks a criminal will turn himself in. The omission in the Pope’s talk is a direct acknowledgment that the Church itself has had a culture of insular self-protection where coverup was the norm. That has to be addressed with a set of oversight and reporting systems that are strictly enforced to encourage reports of suspected abuse, and quick remedial action, including calling the state authorities to investigate a crime.

Michael Barberi
5 months 3 weeks ago

IMO, one possible reason Pope Frances called for 'individual clergy' (priests/bishops/cardinals) who are guilty of sexual abusing minors or adults, and/or covered it up, come forth and admit guilt, is because it is almost impossible to 'force' them to do it. A bishop, cardinal, pope, et al, can give law enforcement authorities the evidence they have. However, I seriously doubt they will voluntarily do this in every country. The exception is the power of States Attorneys General to get such evidence. However, just think of the chaos that will ensue when dozens of States produce something akin to the PA Grand Jury Report. This could happen!
On the other hand, the hierarchy could also bring charges of sexual abuse or coverup against clergy in an ecclesial court. However, I also seriously doubt that Rome is going to bring thousands of priests and potentially dozens upon dozens of bishops/cardinals to a trial.

Let's not forget that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The problem is this: the Statue of Limitations of most of the cases of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. have expired. Therefore, few, if any Federal or State prosecutors are going to bring these cases to court where the person will be found guilty or innocent. Of course, there may be exceptions but how does anyone force a priest, bishop or a cardinal to come forth and admit guilt?

Make no mistake about what I am saying: most clergy with substantial and credible evidence of sexual abuse may well be guilty but it is another thing to force someone to admit his guilt. Therefore, it must be a personal decision. Hopefully, many will come forth. But if clergy who are guilty of sexual abuse or coverup have not admitted it to date, why does anyone think a clarion call by the pope will do it? As I said, hopefully many will come forth. However, such are a call by Pope Francis is righteous and appropriate.

Jim Lein
5 months 3 weeks ago

The pope does seem unsure how to deal with the abuse scandal. One way is through restorative justice, as outlined in the December 24 America magazine. Prison terms and financial compensation don't get to the heart of the matter.
Restorative justice can, in many cases. It may be part of confession and penance, which are what the church is for. Not to avoid financial compensation or jail time, but to do its thing, the sacraments. For goodness sake.

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