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.”