ROME - Pope Francis Friday called on those who have sexually abused children to turn themselves in. He devoted a large part of his annual address to the governing Curia to the crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis said the Church has for some time been firmly committed to eliminating the evil of abuse. But in his annual speech to the Curia, ahead of Christmas, he acknowledged there remain consecrated men who continue to "abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion."
The pope added that these men "perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgement," he said, "but only of being found out and unmasked." He also said these priests create scandals and discredit the Church's saving mission.
"To those who abuse minors," the pope said, "I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice."
Cardinals and bishops who attended the traditional gathering in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican listened attentively to the words of the pope.
The pontiff made it very clear that going forward, the Church will not allow any such accusation to go unheard or to be covered up in any way. He also thanked the media for shedding light on such crimes.
Pope Francis said, "Let it be clear that, faced with these abominations, the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whomever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case."
The pope did acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the past, but he promised to turn those into opportunities to eliminate the problem from the Church and society.
Pope Francis has called an extraordinary summit on the sexual abuse crisis to be held February 21-24 at the Vatican. The meeting that will be attended by the heads of the world's bishops' conferences and other experts, is aimed at developing "a comprehensive and communal response to the crisis" of sexual abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.
Francis has come under fire for his handling of a sex abuse scandal in the Chilean Church, and acknowledged he made "grave errors" in judgment in that case.