"Even if it were to involve a single case of abuse (something itself monstrous), 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," Francis added.
He urged, "Please, let us help Holy Mother Church in her difficult task of recognizing real from false cases, accusations from slander, grievances from insinuations, gossip from defamation."
In a possible indication of the scope of the Vatican's February meeting to address the abuse of minors and other vulnerable adults, the pope said that the Church must confront the root causes of sexual abuse, both within itself and in the wider society.
"The Church will not be limited to healing her own wounds, but will seek to deal squarely with this evil that causes the slow death of so many persons, on the moral, psychological and human levels."
"An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society. For if this grave tragedy has involved some consecrated ministers, we can ask how deeply rooted it may be in our societies and in our families," he commented.
At the February meeting, the heads of all of the international bishops' conferences "will question, with the help of experts, how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries," Francis said.
Pope Francis said he wanted to "stress the importance of a growing awareness that should lead to a duty of vigilance and protection on the part of those entrusted with governance in the structures of ecclesial and consecrated life."
"The strength of any institution does not depend on its being composed of men and women who are perfect (something impossible!), but on its willingness to be constantly purified, on its capacity to acknowledge humbly its errors and correct them; and on its ability to get up after falling down," he said.
The pope used the Biblical story of King David to analyze the sins of "abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse."
"Today too, there are many Davids who, without batting an eye, enter into the web of corruption and betray God, his commandments, their own vocation, the Church, the people of God and the trust of little ones and their families. Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls," he said.
"Let us all remember that only David's encounter with the prophet Nathan made him understand the seriousness of his sin. Today we need new Nathans to help so many Davids rouse themselves from a hypocritical and perverse life," he added.
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Amid the scandals, the pope saw as "a genuine cause for joy" Catholics who faithfully live lives of charity in their vocations, including "the great number of the faithful who each year receive baptism and thus renew the youth of the Church as a fruitful mother, and the many of her children who come home and re-embrace the Christian faith and life. All those families and parents who take their faith seriously and daily pass it on to their children by the joy of their love."
"Another genuine cause for joy is the great number of consecrated men and women, bishops and priests, who daily live their calling in fidelity, silence, holiness and self-denial," Francis said.
"I think especially of the many parish priests who daily offer good example to the people of God, priests close to families, who know everyone's name and live lives of simplicity, faith, zeal, holiness and charity. They are overlooked by the mass media, but were it not for them, darkness would reign," he added.
In his remarks, the pope connected the coming of Christ at Christmas to the final judgement, when Christ will return in glory.
"Each year, Christmas gives us the certainty that God's light will continue to shine, despite our human misery. It gives us the certainty that the Church will emerge from these tribulations all the more beautiful, purified and radiant," he said.
"All the sins and failings and evil committed by some children of the Church will never be able to mar the beauty of her face. Indeed, they are even a sure proof that her strength does not depend on us but ultimately on Christ Jesus, the Saviour of the world and the light of the universe, who loves her and gave his life for her," he continued.
Pope Francis concluded, "Christmas gives us the certainty that the grave evils perpetrated by some will never be able to cloud all the good that the Church freely accomplishes in the world. Christmas gives the certainty that the true strength of the Church and of our daily efforts, so often hidden, rests in the Holy Spirit, who guides and protects her in every age, turning even sins into opportunities for forgiveness, failures into opportunities for renewal, and evil into an opportunity for purification and triumph."