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Pope Francis says it's unfair to judge the church's handling of past abuses by today's standards

Pope Francis addressed on Tuesday the ongoing sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. He defended the church's past methods while acknowledging the need for change. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis addressed the ongoing sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church on Tuesday, defending the church's past handling of allegations. Controversially, the pope seemed to excuse the church's multiple cover-ups of child abuse scandals as the way things were done in "old times."

He also seemed to suggest that it was unfair to hold the church accountable for not punishing the sexual molestation of minor children because of different standards in the past. However, the pontiff also acknowledged that the bureaucracy he leads needs to step up moving forward.

What are the details?

Speaking to a group of young people in Estonia, Pope Francis explained how sexual abuse used to be handled back in the day.

"In old times these things were covered up," he said. "They were covered up also in the homes when the uncle raped the little niece, or the father raped his children. They were covered up because the shame was very big.

He continued, "It is how people thought in the last century. There is a principal that helps me a lot to interpret history. An historic event must be interpreted with the hermeneutics of that time, not with the hermeneutics of today."

While child abusers have always tried to cover up their abuses, Pope Francis did not clarify or explain how it might have been morally excusable for authority figures to cover up the sexual abuse of children — if it came to their attention —  at any time in history.

Francis acknowledged that in modern times, it is difficult for people to connect with the Catholic Church.

He said, "They are outraged by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation, by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young, and simply by the passive role we assign them."

The pope added, "We ourselves need to be converted. We have to realize that in order to stand by your side we need to change many situations that, in the end, put you off."

Speaking to reporters later on his plane, Pope Francis said, "Young people are scandalized by the hypocrisy of older people. They are scandalized by war. They are scandalized by incongruity, they are scandalized by corruption, and as part of this corruption...sexual abuse.

"There are accusations against the church," he continued, "We all know that. We know the statistics. I will not repeat them, but even if it was only one single priest to abuse a young girl or young boy this is monstrous because that man was chosen by God to bring that child to heaven."

Anything else?

The pope's comments come as a new report out of Germany this week uncovered the sexual abuse of thousands of parishioners by Catholic clergy in the country. Following a series of scandals that have hit the church this year, many of the faithful have urged Francis to further address the abuse and cover-up allegations publicly.

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