Pope calls sex abusers ‘children of God’ deserving of ‘love’
By Snejana Farberov
Pope Francis raised some eyebrows while discussing sex abusers, whom he labeled “children of God” who deserve love and “pastoral care” — as well revolting “enemies” who must be punished.
The pontiff made his remarks last month during a private meeting with a group of Jesuit priests in Hungary, but they were only published Tuesday by La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal.
“How do we approach, how do we talk to the abusers for whom we feel revulsion? Yes, they too are children of God. But how can you love them?” Francis was quoted as saying.
The 86-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church was responding to a question from a Hungarian Jesuit who asked: “The Gospel asks us to love, but how do we love at the same time people who have experienced abuse and their abusers?”
The pope acknowledged that the answer to this “powerful question” was “not easily at all.”
Francis explained that a sexual predator was to be condemned, “but as a brother” still deserving of love and care.
“There is a logic, a form of loving the enemy that is also expressed in this way,” he added. “And it is not easy to understand and to live out. The abuser is an enemy.”
While the pope was talking about sexual abuse writ large, the subtext to his answer is the staggering scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church involving generations of pedophile priests abusing hundreds of thousands of children all over the world.
As recently as last month, a Maryland state report revealed that more than 150 Catholic priests with the Archdiocese of Baltimore molested some 600 children, mostly with impunity, over the course of 80 years.
“When you hear what abuse leaves in the hearts of abused people, the impression you get is very powerful,” Francis told his fellow Jesuits during the April 29 meeting in Budapest, Hungary. “Even talking to the abuser involves revulsion; it’s not easy.”
“But they are God’s children too,” he noted, referring to sexual predators. “They deserve punishment, but they also deserve pastoral care. How do we provide that? No, it is not easy.”
During his 10 years on the throne of St. Peter in the Vatican, Francis has created a commission on child molestation prevention and has tightened church laws addressing clerical sexual abuse.
But the pontiff’s efforts to redress the crisis have been hampered by a spate of high-profile resignations from his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Last week, Francis urged the remaining members of the panel to pursue a “spirituality of reparation” with sexual abuse survivors.