Pope compares child sex abuse to 'celebrating a black mass'
Pope Francis has said he will meet victims of child abuse at the Vatican next month, declaring "zero tolerance" for any member of the clergy found guilty of sex attacks.
Giving a press conference on his flight back from the Holy Land late on Monday, the pontiff described abuse as "a really ugly crime", compared it with "celebrating a black Mass" and added: "On this issue we must go forward, forward. Zero tolerance."
Pope Francis, who has been criticised for not meeting victims since he was elected last year, said he would do so at his Vatican residence early next month and celebrate Mass with them. But leading campaigners said yesterday that the move was "meaningless", and that meeting victims would not stop priests abusing children.
Joelle Casteix, regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said: "Francis will be the third pope to meet victims.
"Ask yourself: can you cite a single positive outcome of any of these meetings? We can't."
She urged the Pope to turn over Vatican records on abuse to police and "order bishops to fight for – not against – secular laws that better protect kids".
David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, said the Vatican meeting was "another public relations coup" and "utterly meaningless".
But one US lawyer defending abuse victims praised the Pope. "Meeting directly with victims is the most powerful tool that the Pope can use in understanding the ugliness and horror of clergy sexual abuse and why it must be stopped or prevented," said Mitchell Garabedian.
This month, the Vatican said it had defrocked 848 priests in the past decade in abuse cases and ordered 2,572 to live a life of prayer or penance.
On Monday, the Pope said three bishops were currently under investigation, of which "one has already been convicted and the punishment needs to be decided".
The Pontiff repeated his opinion that celibacy was not a hard and fast rule for priests and could be changed.
"The Catholic Church has married priests in Eastern rites," he said. "Celibacy is not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life that I appreciate a great deal and I believe is a gift for the church. The door is always open given that it is not a dogma of faith."
He also suggested that future popes may retire rather than die in office, following the example of his predecessor Pope Benedict. "We need to look at him as an institution.