The Catholic Church will stop covering up the crimes of paedophile priests “as was usual in the past”, Pope Francis has said in a speech, marking the end of the Vatican‘s anti-child abuse conference.
“No abuse must ever be covered up, as was usual in the past, or overlooked, as covering up abuses favours the spread of evil and adds a further layer of scandal,” the pope said on Sunday in a closing speech to the four-day conference.
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He called on for an “all-out battle” against the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, a crime which he called abominable and that should be “erased from the face of the earth”.
Speaking to almost 200 bishops and other high-ranking figures, he reaffirmed that “if in the Church there should emerge even a single case of abuse – which already in itself represents an atrocity – that
case will be tackled with the utmost seriousness.”
The meeting of the world’s top bishops which Pope Francis has called is part of an effort to tackle a crisis that has dogged the Catholic Church for decades.
On the opening day, on Thursday, Francis presented a 21-point reform road map against child abuse.
However, his speech on Sunday was short on concrete measures and did not include specific commitments, except for a pledge to toughen Vatican laws against online child pornography.
Francis vowed to confront abusers with “the wrath of God” and to prioritise victims of this “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil”.
He compared the sexual abuse of children with human sacrifice.
“Our work has made us realise once again that the gravity of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies,” Francis said.
“I am reminded of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings – frequently children – in pagan rites,” he added.
Francis said those priests who prey on children are “tools of Satan”.
“The echo of the silent cry of the little ones who, instead of finding in them fathers and spiritual guides encountered tormentors, will shake hearts dulled by hypocrisy and by power,” the Argentine pontiff said.
The Jesuit pope noted that the vast majority of sexual abuse happens in the family. He offered a global review of the broader societal problem of sexual tourism and online pornography, in a bid to contextualise what he said was once a taboo subject.
But he said the evil of sexual abuse of children becomes even more scandalous when it occurs in the Catholic Church “for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility”.
Earlier in the conference, a leading German cardinal said that the Roman Catholic Church files on priests who sexually abused children were destroyed or never even drawn up.
Reinhard Marx, the German cardinal, apologised personally in September to thousands of victims of sexual assault by clergy in the German Church, saying perpetrators must be brought to justice.
The Vatican has in the past refused to hand over internal documents about child sexual abuse cases to civil authorities investigating paedophilia.