Pope Francis vowed on Sunday to confront sex abusers with the "wrath of God" at the conclusion of a major Catholic Church summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, saying victims of the "brazen, aggressive and destructive evil" must be prioritized.
Francis made his remarks at the end of Mass before 190 Catholic bishops and religious leaders who were summoned to Rome amid the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse in the clergy and its impact on church leadership.
“I would state clearly: 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,” Francis said, according to the Catholic publication Crux.
“Indeed, in people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons,” he said. “It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry.”
The Jesuit pope noted that the vast majority of sexual abuse happens in the family.
However, he said the sexual abuse of children becomes even more scandalous when it occurs in the Catholic Church, “for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”
Victims of clergy sexual abuse have demanded to meet with Francis.
Meanwhile, a German cardinal claimed at the summit that the Catholic Church "destroyed" records of sexual abuse.
"Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created," Cardinal Reinhard Marx said, according to the Washington Post. "Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them. The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution of offenses were deliberately not complied with, but instead canceled or overridden. The rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot, and left to the whims of individuals."
“We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face-to-face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus,” Francis said.
Francis summoned the bishops from around the world to the four-day meeting to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse and cover-ups aren’t just a problem in some countries but a global problem threatening the mission of the Catholic Church.
According to the Washington Post, the German Catholic Church released a report in September that concluded at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014; in the United States, a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August found that 300 priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children in six dioceses since the 1940s. Since the grand jury's report, prosecutors in more than a dozen U.S. states have announced similar investigations. In Australia, a massive survey found 4,444 people were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions between 1980 and 2015.
No clear guidelines came out of the summit, but Francis did list eight best practices, including protection of children; impeccable seriousness; genuine purification; formation; strengthening and reviewing guidelines by episcopal conferences; accompaniment of those who have been abused; the digital world and sexual tourism.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.