Updated: February 25, 2019 05:12 AM GMT
Pope Francis attends a Eucharistic celebration at the Regia Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Feb. 24, on the fourth and last day of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Church. (Photo by Giuseppe Lami/AFP)
There are no excuses to justify the abuse of children, who are an image of Jesus, and clerics who are guilt of such grave offenses must be punished by "civil and canonical processes," Pope Francis said on Feb. 24.
"If in the Church there should emerge even a single case of abuse — which already in itself represents an atrocity — that case will be faced with the utmost seriousness," he told an assembly of 190 cardinals, bishops and religious superiors in the Sala Regia at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.
The pontiff's remarks capped an historic four-day bishops' conference on the protection of minors in Rome.
He also concluded by praying the Angelus and referencing the power of Satan, citing the example of King Herod.
"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," he was quoted as saying by Catholic News Service.
In the widening sex abuse crisis, which has ensnared priests in various continents and also victimized nuns and seminarians, he said the Devil's work must be seen in the actions of those guilty of covering up such crimes.
"I see the hand of evil that does not even spare the innocence of the little ones. And this leads me to think of the example of Herod who, driven by the fear of losing his power, ordered the slaughter of all the children of Bethlehem," he said.
The pontiff, who issued a set of guidelines at the start of the conference and ordered bishops to come up with "concrete" measures to resolve the crisis, said it was time for an "all out battle" against sex abuse within the Church.
"We are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth," he noted.
However, not everyone was satisfied with the results of the much-anticipated conference.
Some abuse survivors said they felt "let down" by the lack of tangible results, and were disappointed the pontiff has opted to let church leaders tackle the issue at a local level rather than issuing edicts from Rome.
"Pope Francis' talk today was a stunning letdown, a catastrophic misreading of the grief and outrage of the faithful," Anne Barrett Doyle, who helps run BishopAccountability.org, told The New York Times.
"As the world's Catholics cry out for concrete change, the pope instead provides tepid promises, all of which we've heard before," she said.
At the end of a weeklong period that saw Vatican officials speak with sex abuse survivors, and priests hear feedback from other victims, Pope Francis admitted cover-ups had taken place.
He also referred to the "unjustifiable negligence" that had let other cases slip through the cracks.
While most abused minors suffer at the hands of someone they know, often a family member, it is the Church's duty to shake hypocrisy out from the ranks of the clergy and protect children "from ravenous wolves," he added.
Moreover, the Church must rise above "ideological disputes" and exploitative journalistic practices, and "hear, watch over, protect and care for abused, exploited and forgotten children, wherever they are," he said.
He also blasted "the plague of clericalism" and urged members of the Curia to study the work of international organizations while the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors looks to draft guidelines to guide the Church forward.
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