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Pope Francis calls for ‘all-out battle’ against child sex abuse

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican on Feb. 24, 2019. Francis celebrated a final Mass to conclude his extraordinary summit of Catholic leaders summoned to Rome for a tutorial on preventing clergy sexual abuse and protecting children from predator priests. The Mass was celebrated in the Sala Regia, one of the grand, frescoed reception rooms of the Apostolic Palace. (Giuseppe Lami/Pool Photo via AP)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In his final address to nearly 190 bishops attending this week’s Vatican summit on sex abuse, Pope Francis called for the eradication of abuse both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

“I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth. This is demanded by all the many victims hidden in families and in the various settings of our societies,” Francis said.

The pontiff’s address, which referred to clerics who abuse children as “tools of Satan,” began with a litany of statistics regarding multiple kinds of sex abuse and its effects in various parts of the world.

He then outlined eight principles for the church: protecting children; maintaining “seriousness” and rejecting cover-ups; “purification” within the church; better screening for candidates for the priesthood to avoid potential abusers; taking a united approach to the issue across bishops conferences; accompanying those who have been abused; confronting child pornography and online abuse; and combating “sexual tourism.”

“If in the church there should emerge even a single case of abuse — which already in itself represents an atrocity — that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness,” he said. “Indeed, in people’s justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons.”

He later added: “The church’s aim will thus be to hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are. To achieve that goal, the church must rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones.”

As the pontiff concluded the conference, which focused on “the Protection of Minors in the Church,” clerics in the room burst into applause.

The pope’s remarks capped off an intense four days of discussion and debate at the Vatican summit on the topic of sex abuse. Speakers at the conference, who included bishops, nuns and journalists who have covered the abuse crisis, put forward several recommendations on how to tackle abuse.

Advocates for abuse survivors were quick to express frustration with the pope’s speech. Standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, Peter Saunders, a sex abuse survivor visiting Rome with the group Ending Clergy Abuse, said he was “very disappointed” with both the pontiff’s address and the summit in general.

“The fact that it lacked passion or commitment is one thing, but it contained nothing concrete. They’ve had four days to decide on the things they could do that could make a difference, and they have avoided that,” Saunders told Religion News Service. “They’ve heard some impassioned speeches, they’ve had cardinals admitting burning files, we’ve had nuns saying it’s terrible … but they haven’t said, ‘Right, this is what we do next.'”

He added: “They’ve lost even more friends, more Catholics will leave the church, and we will all become even more determined to put the pressure on this institution.”

In a homily that preceded Francis’ remarks, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, told the gathered bishops that the church had little room for further mistakes.

“All of this will take time, but we do not have forever and we dare not fail,” Coleridge said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago who presented a detailed plan to hold bishops accountable earlier in the week, told RNS that the pope’s address showed he was intent on establishing “norms, not just aspirations.” He also noted the forthcoming creation of a task force that will “provide some insight and visibility into what’s happening around the world” regarding abuse.

“As (the pope) said, we have to get this right because we have a moral voice on so many issues, and if we don’t get this right we squander that,” the cardinal said. “The safety of the next generation: That’s why this is so profoundly important.”

At a news conference later in the day, Vatican officials formally announced the pope’s intention to create “task forces of competent persons to help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors.”
Other next steps include a formal papal Motu proprio “on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons” and a new Vatican document that will serve as a guide to “help bishops around the world clearly understand their duties and tasks.”

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

100 Comments

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  • Did he say anything about the sexual abuse to young men in seminaries who are being abused? Did he address consensual sex among homosexual priests and bishops?

  • Good to see that the Pope is no longer creating do-nothing commissions. Now he is appointing task forces. A big step forward. Of course, he will probably need to appoint a commission to help him create the task forces.

  • “All-out battle” should include defrocking those bishops and cardinals who covered up the abuse. They are staring him in the face as we speak.

  • Would the Pope be doing this if the RCC was still successfully keeping sexual-abuse concealed in order to preserve and protect the organization? I strongly doubt it. But, now he is being forced to do it in order to preserve and protect the organization. Protecting the children has always been either secondary at best, or non-existent at worst.

    Having said that, I would like to add that, even though I’m an atheist, I think Pope Francis possesses more human decency than any pope during my lifetime.

  • “Vatican officials formally announced the pope’s intention to create “task forces of competent persons to help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors.””—- Again, it is the foxes guarding the hen house.

  • The Pope would not have been elected Pope if he took that stance when being considered for Popehood. It has been an all boys many centuries.

  • It is if it is with a minor. According to the Church, any sex outside of marriage is a sin. Half the population is going to the hellfire by their own standards. There should be even a high standard for Priests that do this under the cover of the Church.

  • What seems to be missing is the One Useful Step: reporting abuse to civil authorities.

    Sorry to see that not one thing is going to change. Sorry for those children and adults who will see little justice, if any. Abusers and enablers are going to get a stern finger wagging, and perhaps even a talking to. Meanwhile, blaming gay men in general for this Peculiarly Catholic Problem will continue, thereby continuing the very “ideological disputes” that exacerbate the problem.

    As for being betrayed by these “deceitful consecrated persons”… do you mean the very people called to the priesthood by this god
    himself? Or the persons certified by the church as having genuine vocations, literal callings from god?

  • If one is an adult having sex with an underage minor, it’s never “consensual”. Consensual sex between adults isn’t sex abuse, unless the relationship has a significant power differential (e.g., it’s your boss, your pastor, your counselee, etc.

  • “What seems to be missing is the One Useful Step: reporting abuse to civil authorities.”

    What is it missing from?

    “As for being betrayed by these ‘deceitful consecrated persons’… do you mean the very people called to the priesthood by this god himself?”

    Of course god himself is not in charge of the seminaries. Nor is there any vocation certification program.

    The reference, of course, is to abusers and their protectors, liike Theodore McCarrick and Rembert Weakland.

    Care to hazard a guess as to what they both had in common?

  • Here in the USA the 2002 guidelines were followed by a significant drop in reports.

    “Protecting the children has always been either secondary at best, or non-existent at worst.” is, of course, complete crap.

  • That certainly is the belief of some conspiracy theorists who also believe their next door neighbors are from Alpha Centauri.

  • They could have started 17 years ago when the Dallas Charter was finalized. The Dallas Morning News published extensive data on guilty bishops in 2002, which has ever since been ignored.

  • You’re right. The fact that those men did not immediately resign speaks to their moral decay. The fact that the Church did not remove them speaks to the moral decay of those who are leading the institution.

  • That was some of the clarity I was looking for, because even a cleric taking advantage of another adult during a vulnerable moment is consensual, but has a morally bad tone to it. They preach that sex outside of marriage is a sin, therefore hypocritical behavior is an abuse to the adults that these clerics are having consensual sex with.

  • There is already protocol in place for the higher ups to report credible accusations to the authorities, similar to other organizations.

    Unfortunately, the conservatives will blame gay men.

    But the Pope and the majority are more sensible.

  • Bishop Accountability has half the bishops in the USA pegged as abusers. It has zero credibility.

    If it had actionable credibility, law enforcement would be using it to run investigations.

    I appreciate the notion that you believe there should be a “fair trial” before a lynching, but proof and what you’re offering are miles apart.

  • “It has zero credibility.”
    _______

    Wrong. It is YOU who has zero credibility. Your bias on this issue is too apparent. The data presented by the Dallas Morning News in 2002 is also well-documented. The fact is the Popes have been purposefully lax in addressing bishops who behaved improperly. And that is continuing to this day.

  • No one who does not run around with his hand in the air screaming has any credibility with you.

    Having dealt with folks with PTSD and related afflictions I pretty well have assessed what I am dealing with in our exchanges and you have near zero credibility with me.

  • if you go to National Catholic Register, they have a much better and complete article than this one. It lists the 8 points the pope mentioned.

    1. A “change of mentality” to focus on protecting children rather than “protecting the institution.”

    2. A recognition of the “impeccable seriousness” of these “sins and crimes of consecrated persons.”

    3. A genuine purification beginning with “self-accusation.”

    4. Positive formation of candidates for the priesthood in the virtue of chastity.

    5. Strengthening and reviewing of guidelines by episcopal conferences, reaffirming the need for “rules.”

    6. The accompaniment of those who have been abused with an emphasis on listening.

    7. Ensure that seminarians and clergy are not enslaved to an addiction to pornography.

    8. Combat sexual tourism around the world.

  • But not CALL THE POLICE.

    1) Clericalism will see that that doesn’t happen.
    2) any person with a shred of decency or empathy would have done that centuries ago. See #1.
    3) A vow of obedience MIGHT compel someone to follow an order from the pope himself to turn themselves in. Don’t count on it. See #2.
    4) chastity isn’t the problem. Sexual confusion, pedohpilic tendencies, predatory instincts, and a culture that covers up all three is. See #1, 2, and 3.
    5) they had rules. See #1,2,3 and 4.
    6) it’s a start, except see #2.
    7) pornography isn’t the problem, and addiction to it is questionable. It might possibly be a solution, but that isn’t going to happen. See #4.
    8) Sex tourism is a very real thing, but sexual tourists aren’t the problem of the Catholic Church. If it were, the problem would be even worse than it is.

  • And ignored by the Texas Attorney General, the prosecuting attorneys, and the police.

    There’s a message there.

  • This from the same superannuated female who was recently shouting “Hang’em high!” on some high school boys who it turned out had been falsely accused.

    Good thing both the Church and the state require due process.

  • Yes, ignored because of statutes of limitation and deference to the clergy. And It wasn’t just Texas — it was 2 of every 3 American bishops.

    I understand that you’d really like to believe that your priests didn’t rape children, and that their bishops didn’t cover it up, but those are the facts you’re unable to face squarely.

  • “But not CALL THE POLICE.”

    The Church operates in over 190 countries.

    In some of them calling the police could have consequences other than an investigation and justice: North Vietnam, Russia, North Korea, Belarus, and so on.

    “Clericalism will see that that doesn’t happen.”

    The problem appears to be other than clericalism.

    “any person with a shred of decency or empathy would have done that centuries ago.”

    “I hate the Catholic Church.”

    “A vow of obedience MIGHT compel someone to follow an order from the pope himself to turn themselves in.”

    The acts themselves are not the acts of moral individuals who feel bound by moral strictures. Living in the Bay Area I am sure you have seen plenty of that.

    “chastity isn’t the problem.”

    It is extremely difficult to be an abuser AND be chaste.

    “pornography isn’t the problem, and addiction to it is questionable.”

    The existence of addictions to pornography is questionable? No, it exists.

    Pornography is not a common addiction among abusers? Also an error.

  • Ya not explicitly. My guess, and I’m being very generous here, is that it could be included in #5. However, I don’t really know what is in those conference guidelines or if they include all diocese in the US anyway.

    The only real change here is that he is recognizing how absolutely disgusting and vile this whole abuse scandal is. What really bothered me was #3 A genuine purification beginning with “self-accusation.” Which we all know no one is going to accuse themselves and do any form of appropriate penance.

    No this amounts to someone snapping their fingers, when dynamite is what’s needed to get their attention and wake them up.

  • So, you’re saying Texas law enforcement is incompetent.

    I guarantee you that it was not ” it was 2 of every 3 American bishops”.

    And you are correct, I have no plans of joining you in running around screaming.

  • Which part of “Love your neighbor as yourself” do you not understand? Because clearly that’s not in your repertoire of morality.

  • The very first command is to love god.

    To do that you have to follow his commands, one of which proscribes same sex physical congress.

    If I really someone I want them to be happy, and that would mean wanting to see them attain eternal salvation.

    I can’t accomplish that by engaging in serious sin with them.

    What part of “Love your neighbor as yourself” do you not understand?

  • I agree with you for once.
    I have stated that anyone who commits any of these crimes should be defrocked, humiliated and destroyed.
    Purge the evil from the church.

  • I am happy in my marriage, and happy in my retirement. I don’t have to wade through my massive insecurities, as you obviously do, to find a place in this world.

  • Then you would not be here ranting, raving, screaming, and posting.

    I just totaled the number of your rants I responded to today.

    I then noted your complete avoidance of facts – heads you win, tails you pay no attention.

    Amusing as it may be to bat your silliness over the fence over and over again, even I have a limit and you’ve exceeded it by far.

    So, you’re blocked for awhile so I can get some other things done.

  • Just stopping by to say “Hello,” Ben. 1st visit here in several months, mostly interested in any current news stories posted here. I won’t comment editorially on any of them. I don’t want to add to either the heat or the friction. Be well my friend.

  • If one person is taking advantage of another, ie when there is any sort of power differential, emotional or otherwise, then the sex is not truly consensual. Consensual sex occurs between people of equal standing.

  • Things we do today that are banned in Leviticus:
    Eating fat (3:17)
    Touching an unclean animal (5:2) (carcass of an animal)
    Carelessly making an oath (5:4)
    Letting your hair become unkempt (10:6)
    Tearing your clothes (10:6)
    Drinking alcohol in holy places (10:9)
    Eating an animal which doesn’t both chew cud and has a divided hoof (cf: camel, rabbit, pig) (11:4-7)
    Touching the carcass of any of the above (11:8)
    Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales (11:10-12)
    Eating – or touching the carcass of – eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. (11:13-19)
    Eating any animal which walks on all four and has paws (11:27)
    Eating – or touching the carcass of – the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard,the gecko, the monitor lizard, the wall lizard, the skink and the chameleon (11:29)
    Going to church within 33 days after giving birth to a boy (12:4) and Going to church within 66 days after giving birth to a girl (12:5)
    Having sex with a woman during her period (18:19)
    Seeking revenge or bearing a grudge (19:18)
    Mixing fabrics in clothing (19:19), Cross-breeding animals (19:19)
    Planting different seeds in the same field (19:19), Eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it (19:23)
    Trimming your beard (19:27)
    Cutting your hair at the sides (19:27), Getting tattoos (19:28), Turning to mediums or spiritualists (19:31)
    Not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32), Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (19:33-34)
    Cursing your father or mother (punishable by death) (20:9)
    Slaughtering a cow/sheep and its young on the same day (22:28), Working on the Sabbath (23:3)
    Blasphemy (punishable by stoning to death) (24:14), Inflicting an injury; killing someone else’s animal; killing a person must be punished in kind (24:17-22)
    Selling land permanently (25:23)

    Towards the end, some of them don’t have penalties, but they are mentioned in Leviticus, meaning it shouldn’t happen. If people today are going to talk about Leviticus 20:13, they should also be talking about these because we all are sinning everyday and are considered abominations, unclean, or should be stoned to death when it comes to this. Don’t just focus on one thing to make yourself feel better and claim that they are going to Hell for loving someone because most of us are going to Hell by the looks of this.

    Plus, as a religious studies major, The Old Testament (The Torah, The Hebrew Bible) is mostly followed by the Jews while Christians focus on the New Testament and the followings of Jesus. Yes, Jesus mentions to remember the Old Testament, but he also said that he is the new law and order. Read the Old Testament and you’ll be suprised with what we are doing everyday is considered not good at all.

  • I read recently that Exodus 20:7 does not mean what I had been raised to believe. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” It does not mean “don’t swear”, nor does it mean “don’t say “Jehovah”. It means don’t do evil in the name of (by the authority of) the Lord. If you do, God will not forgive you. That would mean this.

    Step one: stop covering up abuse and defrock those who cover up. Step two: let those who are accused of abuse be charged with crimes. Step three: destroy the culture of the church that allows unfettered access to children. Same three steps youth sports needs to take as they have the same problem.

  • “Step three: destroy the culture of the church that allows unfettered access to children.”

    Matthew 19: 13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.

    14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

  • If the church or the state “required due process,” all of these pedophile clergymen would be in prison now and victims would have been financially compensated by this corrupt church for 1000’s of abuse claims. Instead, all the records of abuse have been destroyed, and the shame just keeps growing…and you, Mark, are becoming the champion victim abuser of the Catholic church by your continual denial and deflecting.

  • It WILL NOT do any good to argue with Mark, as he is in profound denial, and has become one of the biggest child victim abusers of the Catholic church. His facts, proof, and statistics are all fake. I haven’t figured out whether he was an abuser himself, or a victim of abuse. He and God will figure it out in the final judgment.

  • Your silence, refusing to see the truth, and denial SCREAM so much louder than anything else you do or write.

  • Your “facts” are false, you are in total denial, and you keep abusing child victims already abused by Catholic clergy.

  • You appear to have some loose bolts.

    For example, I read “Your ‘facts’ are false”, but nothing to back that up.

    Tighten up those bolts a bit and get back to me when you’re done.

  • “Your silence, refusing to see the truth, and denial” seems to mean that my lack of impression about your screaming is annoying to you.

    Good.

  • Oddly enough, they are not 1000’s (sic) of abuse claims.

    In the state of Pennsylvania the Attorney General suggested that there might be 1,000 in a 70-year period.

    Tighten those bolts up, get some facts, and we can pick it back up.

  • You know that yesterday and today Pope Francis confessed that all the records of pedophilia and abuse have been destroyed. He compared sexual abuse of children to human sacrifice. He admitted that “Satan” has become a part of the RCC culture. It is on CNN, BBC, here in Chile and worldwide, Mark. Comments by CP are all correct, and you are still in DENIAL, Mark.

  • Popes and other clergy just transfer offenders from parish to parish, and have been doing this for MANY years. The church supports a culture of covering and hiding the truth.

  • Mark, you are the one with ZERO credibility, and we all know it is because you are in TOTAL DENIAL. ALL of us agree with CanisPulchrae on this sight, you should just go away because you put people down to try and destroy their credibility because you cannot handle the TRUTH.

  • Let’s see: CanisPulchrae is an aging ex-Catholic anti-Catholic homosexual who can’t keep his stories straight.

    You’re a screamer who is shy on facts.

    When you write “we all know it”, are you speaking of the voices in your head?

  • The evidence is with the testimonies of 1000’s of abuse victims…READ THE NEWS TODAY, MARK. You are the one
    with VERY LOOSE BOLTS. You accuse me of this because you have nothing else but your false statements.

  • He did not confess anything. The destruction of records of tribunals after an adjudication, leaving on the record of its decision, has been part of Canon Law since 1917.

    No, he did not admit that “Satan has become a part of the RCC culture”.

    As Judas well illustrated Satan has been tempting and deceiving the high and mighty, even in the churches, since the Church was founded.

    Tighten those bolts a bit and wipe the froth off your kisser and get back to me.

  • Mark, you can’t HIDE THE TRUTH with your negative put-downs of others. Canis above is correct, and you have nothing.

  • Mark, sadly, when you are wrong, you become condescending and arrogant. I do not deal with children.

  • That is all you have, Mark…is to block someone and use sarcasm when the TRUTH becomes too painful for you.

  • You’re on a time out.

    From time to time I unblock folks and see if they are making any sense, but given your level of incoherent ranting, I would not get your hopes up.

  • You become a real control freak when people try to get you to STOP your DENIAL and face the truth. You seem to have a very sad life.

  • And worldwide? Over the past 1400 years? How many claims would there be if it were not for fear of coming forward by children? As long as clergy cannot marry, abuse against children and nuns will continue. Stop your denial, and victim abuse, Mark.

  • On a slightly different note, it is reported that JP I said something to the effect of “I sat opposite? beside? (I can’t remember exactly) the Pope.” Upon looking at the seating chart, some said JPII was in the position he indicated.

  • This is an abomination. This is granting permission for abuse of the most egregious kind to continue. No accountability for the abusers. No justice for the victims. No credibility for the Catholic Church to speak on morality of any kind EVER. I will have to assume, since the Pope is still protecting these perverted, rapacious criminals, and we don’t even know who they all are, that ALL Priests, Bishops, Prelates, Cardinals and maybe even the Pope himself are guilty of committing and facilitating and covering up the systemic rape and sexual assault of women and children all over the globe, and that they are satisfied to have it continue completely unabated.

  • Rape and sexual assault are CRIMES. They should be arrested, put on trial, and given the overwhelming evidence, spend the rest of their days in prison, where they may be treated to some of the same behaviors they themselves have committed. “Defrocking” is meaningless. I don’t think you fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.

  • I think I do appreciate its gravity, Valerie. I am a survivor, and I went public many years ago. Unfortunately, the statutes of limitations in many states prevent trial and prosecution.

  • Well, I’m back at my past employer in a position that will presumably see me through to retirement, should I live so long (6.5 years). I’m not particularly fulfilled, nor adequately compensated (as measured against the pace of the cost of living). But I try to live by this admonition that Paul gave to Timothy, “Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content, for contentment with godliness is great gain. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can take nothing out.” I hope this reference to scripture will not offend you, for it clearly frames the attitude I’m striving to maintain in a world that seems increasingly difficult and confusing for us all. Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, I broke my own rule on my last visit, commented on a story, and was promptly challenged for it. I will continue to visit to read, reflect, and restrain myself. When I do so I will always greet you amicably if I may. Be Well.

  • I’m glad ot hear you are at least in work, however unfulfilling it might be. It’s better than not.

    Of course i’m not offended. Why would I be offended at something kindly meant and quite true? :0)
    I learned long ago that happiness is not measured in having what you want, but in wanting what you have. And if tour family’s needs and your needs are being met, and your health is good, you’ve got more than 90% of the people in the world.
    My best to you and yours as well.

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