Pope compares child sex abuse to human sacrifice as he promises to combat 'with the wrath of God'

Andrea Vogt
The Pope called the summit of 190 Catholic Church leaders to combat the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal involving minors - UPI / Barcroft Media

Pope Francis wrapped up a landmark Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse on Sunday pledging to bring the “wrath of God” upon clergy who abuse children, and likening paedophilia to "human sacrifice".

“We must deliver justice to whoever did this and never try to cover up any case,” Pope Francis told the 190 cardinals, bishops and participants gathered for the unprecedented four-day Vatican summit on the clerical sexual abuse crisis that has dogged the Roman Catholic Church for decades.

“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 power."

Support groups for the victims of clerical sexual abuse, however, said Pope Francis had lost a unique, high-profile opportunity for momentous change, instead opting for empty promises and “meaningless” reflection points. 

His references to the devil and emphasis on the fact that the Church was not the only place children were abused particularly rankled. 

Describing predatory priests as "tools of Satan", the Pope said paedophilia was "a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies".

"I am reminded of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings - frequently children - in pagan rites," he said.

"Honestly it's a pastoral 'blabla', saying it's the fault of the devil," Swiss victim Jean-Marie Furbringer said.

The summit concluded with the celebration of a mass, during which Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Mark Coleridge urged the swift implementation of change.

“A mission stretches before us - a mission demanding not just words but real concrete action,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

In his concluding remarks after mass, the 82-year-old Argentine pontiff called for a full-scale battle against the scourge of sexual abuse. This would include the development of guidelines, task forces and legislation within the church focused on eight key points: prevention, conduct, training, purification, protocols for informing authorities, fighting against sexual tourism and online abuse, accompaniment for the abused and, above all, protecting minors from predators in the Church.

Vatican officials also confirmed he is considering changes to Canon Law to raise the current definition of minor from 14 to 18.

He urged the “great majority of priests” who are not abusers and who feel dishonoured by the crimes of others to embrace an institutional change in mentality.

Summit participants heard shocking revelations from the Church hierarchy about destruction of evidence, failure to report crimes and cover ups of the scandals in countries across the globe, including Chile, Germany, Ireland, Australia and the US.

Victims’ advocacy and survivor support groups said they were disappointed by the pontiff’s failure to announce any concrete measures. More guidelines were by and large irrelevant, said Peter Saunders, a British victim who stepped down from a special commission on child protection out of frustration with the lack of progress and support.

"The pope had a unique opportunity with the eyes of the world on him, to write into Canon Law that any priest or clergy who has been convicted or credibly accused must be removed from the priestly state forever. Likewise, any bishop, cardinal or church official who covers up from these crimes must be removed. Otherwise the church is still failing children across the world as we speak in a catastrophic way,” Mr. Saunders told the Telegraph.  

Mr Saunders was among the dozens of abuse survivors who rallied outside the summit on Saturday, as inside others gave harrowing accounts of their abuse. One woman said she was forced to have three abortions after being sexually and physically tormented by a priest. 

Nigerian nun Veronica Openibo scolded the cardinals and bishops for inaction, asking the question echoing endlessly through the  Vatican halls: “Why did we keep silent so long?”