It's Christmastime. The season of giving and overeating and awaiting the birth of the Lord. But if you're Pope Francis, that has come to mean something rather different, too: getting up to a microphone once a year and, during these supposedly most joyous of times, ridiculing the leadership of the Holy See, and all its problems.
On Friday, as is his tradition, the pontiff addressed the Roman Curia, the main governing body of the Catholic Church, and announced—between a celebration of Advent, a few biblical quotes, and a critique of some of the world's other woes—that he would not protect priests guilty of sex abuse.
"To those who abuse minors I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice," he said.
He acknowledged, too, the Church's failure to adequately address the ongoing crisis in the past—that it "treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due"—and noted that tangible steps would be taken after a summit in February, in which 100 or so key bishops are set to gather in Vatican City to plan a way forward on the matter. According to Reuters, these were among the "strongest comments ever" on the unrelenting scandal, and "Vatican sources [even] believed it was the first time the pope had made such a direct appeal."
Still, Francis's admonition arrives during yet another tumultuous month for the Catholic Church, in an especially tumultuous year that has seen all of Chile's bishops resign, the most major, influential clergymen resigning too, and probe after probe launched by attorneys general across the United States. These last few weeks have been particularly explosive—again—for America and Australia: On Thursday, the New York Times published an article that detailed how a New York–based priest, who had been repeatedly accused of sexual abuse, continued to preach from the altar, due, it seems, to a sort of bureaucratic loophole. A few days prior, the attorney general in Illinois revealed that the names of about 500 priests accused of sex abuse had previously been withheld, and a bishop in Los Angeles resigned following reports of alleged misconduct. And earlier this month, the Australian cardinal George Pell, the third-most high-ranking clergyman on the planet and the treasurer of the Vatican, was convicted in his country's court of charges related to sexual abuse.
As more of this sort of information leaks out, it's no surprise that Catholics and laymen alike are skeptical—especially because Francis hasn't been completely firm on the sex abuse scandal, even recently. In November, for instance, he urged bishops attending a conference on the crisis in the States not to take any definitive steps until after the global meeting—a move that some argued was an additional skittish avoidance, while the Vatican insisted it was for the sake of global unity. He urged, simply, that they wait.
So we too will have to wait until later this winter, when the bishops descend on the Vatican and prepare their response. We'll have to sit patiently, if we can, to conclude if this pope can convert—not a cracker into flesh, or wine into blood—but his words, at long last, into action.
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