Pope Francis, calling Catholic clergy members who abuse children “tools of Satan,” made a “heartfelt appeal” Sunday to authorities and individuals to end the exploitation of minors.
The pontiff spoke at the end the four-day summit called “The protection of minors in the church,” to 190 Catholic leaders, including 114 bishops from around the world.
“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,” Pope Francis said. “In abuse, we see the hand of the evil that does not spare even the innocence of children. No explanations suffice for these abuses involving children.”
Francis began the unprecedented summit Thursday saying he wanted to consult with the leaders “in light of the scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by ecclesiastics to the great harm of minors” and to “hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice.”
The pontiff ended his speech Sunday with an appeal.
“I make a heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors both sexually and in other areas, on the part of all authorities and individuals, for we are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth: this is demanded by all the many victims hidden in families and in the various settings of our societies,” he said.
Francis said the abuse has been going on for centuries but more people are speaking out and studies conducted.
“Only in relatively recent times has it become the subject of systematic research, thanks to changes in public opinion regarding a problem that was previously considered taboo; everyone knew of its presence yet no one spoke of it,” he said. “I am reminded too of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings — frequently children — in pagan rites. Yet even today, the statistics available on the sexual abuse of minors drawn up by various national and international organizations and agencies [the WHO, UNICEF, INTERPOL, EUROPOL and others] do not represent the real extent of the phenomenon, which is often underestimated, mainly because many cases of the sexual abuse of minors go unreported, particularly the great number committed within families.”
He said victims rarely speak out and seek help.
“Behind this reluctance there can be shame, confusion, fear of reprisal, various forms of guilt, distrust of institutions, forms of cultural and social conditioning, but also lack of information about services and facilities that can help,” he said. “Anguish tragically leads to bitterness, even suicide, or at times to seek revenge by doing the same thing. The one thing certain is that millions of children in the world are victims of exploitation and of sexual abuse.”
In the United States, more 700,000 children each year are victims of acts of violence and mistreatment, he said in citing official data of the American government.
And 1 out of every 10 children experiences sexual abuse, according to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
He said acts of violence take place not only in the home, but also in neighborhoods, schools, athletic facilities and, sadly, also in church settings.”
Sexual abuse is rising because of development of the web and of the communications media. . “The scourge of pornography has expanded to an alarming degree, causing psychological harm and damaging relations between men and women, and between adults and children,” the pope said.
He listed eight area of concentration: the protection of children, impeccable seriousness, genuine purification, formation of criteria for the selection and training of priesthood candidates, strengthening and reviewing guidelines by Episcopal conferences, accompaniment of those who have been abused, the digital world and sexual tourism.
Summit participants did not immediately adopt any new measures, according to CNN, but proposed holding bishops accountable and lifting the Pontifical Secret that often keeps abuse victims in the dark about the progress of their church trials.
The conference included video testimonies by abuse victims.
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx on Saturday said the Catholic Church destroyed files to prevent documentation of decades of sexual abuse of children by clergy members.
Also Saturday, a Nigerian nun, Veronica Openibo, described a culture of “mediocrity, hypocrisy, and complacency” that she said had brought the church to a “disgraceful and scandalous place.”
The pope also addressed his faithfuls after his Angelus address in Saint Peter’s Square, saying “we want all possible measures to be taken so that such crimes are not repeated.”
Pontiff and those who had participated at the meeting, he said, had “listened to the voices of the victims, we have prayed and asked forgiveness from God and from the victims, we have become aware of our responsibilities, of our duty to do justice in truth, to radically reject any form of abuse of power, conscience and sexuality.”
Activists from the Ending Clergy Abuse organization appeared in Saint Peter’s Square.