With his hands visibly shaking as he read from his prepared text, the pope addressed abusive clergy directly, telling them to prepare to face justice.
“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.
“Remember the words of Christ: ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes!’” he added.
The pope chose to focus his Christmas address on the struggles the Church faced in the past “turbulent” year. “This year, in our turbulent world, the barque of the Church has experienced, and continues to experience, moments of difficulty, and has been buffeted by strong winds and tempests,” he said.
Francis outlined what he perceived to be the different reactions from Catholics around the world in response to the sex abuse crisis.
“Many have found themselves asking the Master, who seems to be sleeping: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ Others, disheartened by news reports, have begun to lose trust and to abandon her. Still others, out of fear, personal interest or other aims, have sought to attack her and aggravate her wounds. Whereas others do not conceal their glee at seeing her hard hit,” he said.
“Many, many others, however, continue to cling to her, in the certainty that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against her,’” he added.
The pope also thanked the journalists who shed light on the cases of sex abuse within the Church, “who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard.”
“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.”
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“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.