VATICAN CITY -- The time has come for an "all-out battle" against the abuse of minors, erasing this abominable crime from the face of the earth, Pope Francis said, closing a global four-day summit on child protection in the Catholic Church.
For quite some time, the world has been aware of the "serious scandal" the abuse of minors by clergy has brought to the Church and public opinion, both because of the dramatic suffering it has caused victims and because of the "unjustifiable negligence" and "cover-up" by leaders in the Church, he told people gathered in St. Peter's Square.
Since the problem is present on every continent, the pope said he called leaders of the world's bishops and religious superiors to Rome because "I wanted us to face it together in a co-responsible and collegial way," he said after praying the Angelus Feb. 24.
"We listened to the voice of victims, we prayed and asked for forgiveness from God and the people hurt, we took stock of our responsibility, and our duty to bring justice through truth and to radically reject every form" of sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience, he said.
"We want every activity and every place in the Church to be completely safe for minors," he said, which means taking every possible measure so that such crimes never happen again.
It will also entail working with great dedication together with people of good will everywhere in order to fight this "very grave scourge of violence" that affects hundreds of millions of minors around the world.
The pope's noonday summary of what he called a "very important" meeting came after he delivered his closing remarks at the end of Mass Feb. 24.
Surrounded by the ornate frescoed walls and ceiling of the Sala Regia, the pope told some 190 cardinals, bishops and religious superiors from around the world, "the time has come, then, to work together to eradicate this evil from the body of our humanity by adopting every necessary measure already in force on the international level and ecclesial levels."
However, despite the importance of knowing the sociological and psychological explanations behind this criminal act of abuse, he said, the Church must recognize this is a spiritual battle against the "brazen, aggressive, destructive" power of Satan.
"I see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem," the pope said.
Just as the pagans once sacrificed children on their altars, such cruelty continues today with an "idolatrous sacrifice of children to the god of power, money, pride and arrogance," he said.
While the majority of abused minors are victims of a person they know, most often a family member, he said, it is "all the more grave and scandalous" when a member of the Church, particularly a priest, is the perpetrator "for it is utterly incompatible" with the Church's moral authority and ethical credibility.
"Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan," he said.
There is no excuse for abusing children, who are an image of Jesus, he said, which is why it has become increasingly obvious "the gravest cases of abuse" must be disciplined and dealt with "civil and canonical processes."
"Here again I would state clearly: 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."
In fact, he said, the Church should recognize that people's anger over the mishandling of abuse is nothing other than a reflection of "the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons."
"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," Pope Francis said. "It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry."
The Church must combat this evil, both inside and outside its walls, he said, and protect children "from ravenous wolves."
The Catholic Church must "hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are," he said. And to do that, 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." Because concrete measures will need to be adopted on a local level, the pope pointed to the work of international organizations in their "Seven Strategies for Ending Violence against Children" and guidelines and other resources produced by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Aided by these guidelines, the pope said, the Church will concentrate on the following aspects: Protection of children, examining all cases seriously, purification of the Church, formation of priests, strengthening guidelines of episcopal conferences, accompanying those who have been abused, protecting minors in the digital world and combating sexual tourism.
The Church, he said, must concentrate on the protection of children, being serious in bringing justice and healing to victims and undergoing genuine purification; proper training for priests and religious is necessary, as are strong guidelines by bishops' conferences.
The pope urged all Catholics to help the Church be liberated "from the plague of clericalism, which is the fertile ground for all these disgraces."
On behalf of the whole Church, the pope also thanked "the vast majority of priests who are not only faithful to their celibacy but spend themselves in a ministry today made even more difficult by the scandals of few -- but always too many -- of their confreres."
He also thanked the faithful who recognize the goodness of their ministers and pray for and support them.
Abp. Coleridge: True conversion focuses on survivors
VATICAN CITY -- The Catholic Church needs a true conversion that places survivors, and not the institution, as the focus of its concern as it enacts measures to combat the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people, said Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane.
Like Nicolaus Copernicus' discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, the Church is need of a "Copernican revolution" where "those who have been abused do not revolve around the Church but the Church around them," Archbishop Coleridge said in his homily Feb. 24 during the closing Mass of the Vatican summit on child protection.
"In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the Church begin to look quite different," he said. "This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace which can open for the church a new season of mission."
While Pope Francis presided over the final Mass of the four-day summit in the Sala Regia (literally, "royal room") of the Apostolic Palace, Archbishop Coleridge gave the homily.
Archbishop Coleridge warned the bishops that in giving priority to a desire to protect the Church's reputation, "we will not go unpunished."
Those who abuse or cover up abuse use their power "not to create but to destroy, and even in the end to kill" the ones who are anointed by God, "even the weakest and most vulnerable of them," he said.
Jesus' command to "love your enemies" in the Sunday Gospel reading, he added, is a reminder for the Church to not view as "the enemy" those who have exposed abuse and cover up in the Church.
"At times, however, we have seen victims and survivors as the enemy, but we have not loved them, we have not blessed them," he said. "In that sense, we have been our own worst enemy,"
The Church, the Australian archbishop said, has a mission that demands "not just words but real concrete action" that brings justice and healing to survivors, strengthens the formation of those entering the priesthood and religious life and eradicates abuse from the Church.