Pope tells Catholics: God loves 'even the worst of us', as Church embroiled in child abuse and financial scandals

Gabriella Swerling

Pope Francis has told Catholics that God loves “even the worst of us” in his Christmas message, as the Church remains embroiled in child abuse and financial scandals.

Speaking to thousands of people during Christmas Eve Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, the Argentine pontiff offered an unusually veiled reference to religious controversies.

In his homily to the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.to the various clerical abuse and financial scandals to have blighted the Church. 

"You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things... but the Lord continues to love you," he said.

"Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. To me, to you, to each of us, he says today: 'I love you and I will always love you, for you are precious in my eyes,'" the 83-year-old pontiff said.

"God does not love you because you think and act the right way. He loves you, plain and simple. His love is unconditional; it does not depend on you."

"Whatever goes wrong in our lives, whatever doesn't work in the Church, whatever problems there are in the world, will no longer serve as an excuse."

His comments come following controversial sweeping changes to the Catholic church in a bid to improve transparency.

Last week the Pope introduced changes to remove the rule of "pontifical secrecy" that has pervaded the issue of clerical child sexual abuse.

The Church previously shrouded sexual abuse cases in secrecy, in what it said was an effort to protect the privacy of victims and reputations of the accused.

However new papal documents have since lifted restrictions on those who report abuse or say they have been victims.

High-profile cases and harrowing testimony given to public inquiries, such as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) have ensured that the issue remains in the headlines.

In the most recent of such cases, Cardinal George Pell was convicted of abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in 1996. The 78-year-old was Australia's highest-ranking Catholic, and was previously Vatican treasurer - meaning he was widely seen as the Church's third most powerful official.

Speaking from the Vatican Balcony in his annual Christmas Day message today, he prayed for  for a softening of "stony and self-centred hearts" to help end injustice in the world.

The Pope prayed for those hit by conflict, natural disasters and disease, listing several countries. He also emphasised persecution of Christians in Africa. 

Despite the messages, the child abuse and financial scandals are likely to follow Pope Francis into 2020. 

There are expected to be developments in a corruption investigation involving hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to the Holy See and the release of a report on what the Vatican knew about ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked for sexually abusing adults and minors.