Pope Francis has called on priests guilty of abusing children to turn themselves in and announced that the Catholic Church "will spare no effort" in bringing to justice any offenders within its ranks.
The pontiff acknowledged that many sexual abuse cases have not been handled properly in the past, but he insisted that the church won't be giving cover to predatory clergymen moving forward.
What are the details?
In his Christmas message to the Roman Curia on Friday, the pope admitted that scandals within the church have caused some parishioners to begin to lose faith in the institution. He added that "the church herself, with her faithful children, is also a victim" of the crimes committed by so many consecrated perpetrators of molestation and rape.
"The church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes," Pope Francis said. "The church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case. It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience — we need to judge the past with a hermeneutics of the past — or spiritual and human myopia, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due."
"That must never happen again," he added.
The pope then directed his attention to offenders, saying, "To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice."
The Catholic Church and Pope Francis have faced heavy criticism recently for not making the sexual abuse scandals more of a priority, as victims continue to come forward and more priests are exposed for committing crimes against children.
The pope's speech on Friday could signal that the pontiff is feeling the heat over mounting global outrage from victims, advocates, parishioners, and even casual observers. WTOP-FM reported that the pope's dedication of his Christmas message to abuse within the church serves as "evidence that a year of devastating revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up has shaken his papacy."
On Tuesday, the pope announced details of a planned February summit on how to address and prevent sexual abuse within the church. But many victims — some of whom have been fighting for decades to see leadership crack down on known offenders — are asking: "What took so long?"
Responding to news of the summit, abuse survivor and long-time victim's advocate Barbara Dorris told the Christian Science Monitor, "They're just now getting around to this? Good Lord, where've you been?"