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Pope vows action on abuse, decries divisions in Church, in address to Roman Curia

December 21, 2018

Pope Francis renewed his promise to root out sexual abuse, and at the same time warned against divisions in the Church, in a December 21 address to leaders of the Roman Curia.

“Let us be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes,” the Pope said of sexual abuse. “The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case.” While acknowledging that in the past Church leaders have not acted decisively against abuse, he insisted: “That must never happen again.”

An abusive priest, the Pontiff said, is like “a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls.” In a speech marked by strong language, he said that the sins of such clerics “disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility.” He said that at a Vatican meeting on abuse in February, “the Church will restate her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification.”

The annual papal meeting with leaders of the Roman Curia, which was traditionally an exchange of Christmas greetings, has in recent years become an opportunity for the Pope to reflect on the challenges facing the Vatican. Pope Francis, in particular, has used the occasion to deliver stinging indictments of the “sicknesses” of the Curia (in 2014) and of “traitors” who opposed his programs of reform (in 2017). The prospect of another papal scolding may have explained an unprecedented phenomenon: the presence of many empty seats in the hall during the audience.

However, this year Pope Francis did not direct his criticism at the officials of the Roman Curia. In fact he began his address with a nod of appreciation for Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who as the new sustituto (Assistant Secretary of State) handles the day-to-day administration of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Pope Francis did warn against the presumption of religious leaders who “frequently come to think and act as if they were the owners of salvation and not its recipients.” But he made that point almost in passing, moving quickly on to look across the past year, in which he remarked that “the barque of the Church has experienced—and continues to experience—moments of difficulty, and has been buffeted by strong winds and tempests.”

Among these difficulties the Pope listed first the plight of immigrants, and went on to decry the bloodshed spilled in many conflicts around the world and the plight of Christians suffering for their faith. He then turned to problems within the Church, saying that the world’s sorrows should not “make us overlook the counter-witness and the scandal given by some sons and ministers of the Church.”

In his discussion of sexual abuse, and the abuse of authority, the Pope spoke about the sin of King David. After using his power to satisfy his lust for Bathsheba, and arrange to death of her husband Uriah, the Pope noted, David’s “only concern was to preserve his image, to keep up appearances.” Thus his sins became the source of corruption.

“Today too, there are consecrated men, “the Lord’s anointed”, who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion,” the Pope said. He condemned both their “abominable acts” and the betrayal of those who protect them. The Pope insisted:

Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case. It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience—we need to judge the past with a hermeneutics of the past—or spiritual and human myopia, 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.

The Church must work to prevent sexual abuse not just within the Catholic Church but throughout society, the Pope continued. He remarked that “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.”

Pope Francis observed that “some within the Church” have criticized the media for exposing sexual abuse, especially since clerics are responsible for only a small portion of the abuse in society. But he said that he himself “would like to give heartfelt thanks” to honest reporters who “sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voice heard.”

However, the Pope said that the Church suffers from another internal affliction, marked by those who “betray their vocation, their sworn promise, their mission and their consecration to God and the Church.” Without specifically naming names or listing offenses, he explained that he was thinking of those who “sow weeds, division, and bewilderment.” He said that these people, who included bishops, are subject to the influence of “the Great Accuser” who “brings division, sows discord, insinuates enmity, persuades God’s children and causes them to doubt.”

In context in denouncing these purveyors of discord, the Pope seemed to be referring to critics of his leadership. And his final judgment on them was harsh. Likening them to Judas, he said that behind discord “we always find the thirty pieces of silver.” And—having likened abusers to King David, and dissenters to Judas—he reminded his audience: “David repented, trusting in God’s mercy; Judas hanged himself.”

After reaching that grim climax of his address, Pope Francis returned to more joyful reflections, reminding the officials of the Roman Curia that the year 2018 had seen a successful Synod on young people, progress toward Vatican reform, the addition of new saints to the Church calendar, and the witness of countless faithful priests, religious, and lay Catholics. “Each year,” he reassured the Vatican officials, “Christmas gives us the certainty that God’s light will continue to shine, despite our human misery.”


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  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Dec. 23, 2018 9:40 PM ET USA

    If he were serious, he, the abuse protector in chief, would resign.

  • Posted by: Jim Hanink - Dec. 22, 2018 3:07 PM ET USA

    Perhaps some dissenters have Judas-like traits. Others surely do not. There are contexts in which exaggerated rhetoric might serve a constructive purpose. In this context, it does not. Holy Father, enough.

  • Posted by: Ken - Dec. 22, 2018 8:00 AM ET USA

    Stop speaking in the future tense! “the church WILL spare no effort “. Holy Father, it is time for action. Action that includes removal of anyone credibly accused regardless of station. Independent investigations. Remove the presence of satan in our church - homosexual and pederast deacons, priests and bishops. Talk is cheap. Actions show true intent.

  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Dec. 21, 2018 8:20 PM ET USA

    This sounds good. But sounds are not actions. I admit the Holy Father leaves me confused most times. I find myself trusting the Holy Spirit to protect the Faith. I pray that Pope Francis will root out the abomination - from seminary directors to cardinals to priests who no longer worship God and cleanse the Church of evil and sin.