Pope Francis will meet a group of sex abuse victims for the first time in June, he told reporters on the flight back from Israel.
During an in-flight press conference on his return to Rome from the Holy Land (summary), the Pope also confirmed reports the Vatican is investigating charges its former secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, misappropriated £12 million (€15 million, $20 million) from the Vatican bank. And he announced he plans to visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January.
The Pope described the abuse of children by priests as “such an ugly crime” and a “very grave” problem, the betrayal of a priest’s duty to lead young people to holiness, comparable to performance of a Black Mass.
“We must move ahead, ahead, zero tolerance,” he said.
As an indication of how seriously he takes the problem, the Pope said he would meet a group of six to eight sex abuse victims from various countries, including Germany, England and Ireland, in the first week of June. He also will celebrate a private Mass with the group in the Vatican guesthouse, where he lives. Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, a member of the recently established Vatican commission on child protection, will be present at the gathering, the Pope said.
Pope Francis is not known ever to have met with a group of sex abuse victims, something Benedict XVI did several times in various countries. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor from Ireland whom the Pope named to the child protection commission, met him at the Vatican in May.
Pope Francis said the Church cannot have privileged “daddy’s boys”, exempt from punishment when it comes to sex abuse of minors. He revealed that three unnamed bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for misdeeds related to sex abuse, and another has been found guilty and is awaiting punishment. It was not clear if the bishops in question had been accused of personally abusing children or of mishandling accusations of abuse against other priests.
The Pope also was asked about reports that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican secretary of state was considered the highest Vatican official, mishandled funds held by the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank.
“It’s something being studied, it’s not clear,” the Pope said. “Maybe it’s the truth, but at this moment it’s not definitive.”
Asked if he might follow his predecessor’s lead and ever resign, Pope Francis said he would pray for the wisdom to obey God’s will, but added that Benedict XVI had “opened the door” to the possibility of other retired popes and would not remain a “unique case”.
Discussing what he has frequently called a “throwaway culture”, the Pope said it was exemplified not only by youth unemployment and neglect of the elderly, problems he has cited before, but also by low fertility rates in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain.
Regarding the two synods of bishops on the family he has called for this October and October 2015, the Pope lamented what he characterised as an overemphasis, by members of the clergy among others, on the question of when divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may receive Communion.
The Pope said focusing on that question posed the risk of “casuistry”, which he has defined in the past as the practice of setting general laws on the basis of exceptional cases. He emphasised the synods would consider the pastoral care of the family in its totality.