‘Hand yourself over to human justice’: Pope Francis tells priests guilty of abuse the church won’t shield them

The Washington Post

December 21, 2018

By Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein

Pope Francis used one of his major annual Christmas speeches to offer some of his strongest words about this year’s heightened sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church, telling guilty priests the church will not protect them and they should turn themselves in.

“To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” Francis said in a speech at the Vatican on Friday.

Speaking to the Roman Curia — the central governing leadership of the Vatican — Francis described at length the sinfulness of priests who prey on children. “Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls,” he said, in remarks that drew often on the example of the sinful biblical King David. “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.”

Survivor advocates slammed Francis for focusing on priest-abusers rather than the leaders and system that protect them, while other Vatican observers praised his comments as a dramatic acknowledgment of the scope of the problem.

Francis’s call for abusers to turn themselves in “is silly. To command psychologically sick people to do the right thing? It’s also deceptive,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, which documents abuse. “This speech represents a regression to the defense we heard from John Paul II, that the problem was with the perpetrators. We now know the more fundamental problem is with the complicit and deceptive hierarchy.”

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