Pope Francis is receiving backlash after he referred to sexual abusers as repugnant “enemies” who need to be punished as well as “children of God” who deserve love and “pastoral care.”
The remarks in question were made public by La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal, earlier this week, but they were initially made by the pope last month during a meeting with a group of Jesuit priests in Hungary.
“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 saying.
In response to a question posed by a Hungarian Jesuit, Pope Francis said, “The Gospel asks us to love, but how do we love at the same time people who have experienced abuse and their abusers?”
He acknowledged that the answer to this “powerful question” was “not easy at all.”
According to Francis, a sexual predator should be condemned “but as a brother” who is still deserving of compassion 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.”
The subtext of the pope’s response, which came while he was discussing widespread sexual assault, was the shocking scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church and involved decades of pedophile priests who have abused hundreds of thousands of children worldwide.
Over 80 years, more than 150 Catholic priests with the Archdiocese of Baltimore sexually abused 600 children, most often without consequence, according to a Maryland state study released just last month.
“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 meeting last month. “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.”
Francis has strengthened church regulations addressing clergy sexual abuse and established a commission on child molestation prevention during his ten years on St. Peter’s throne at the Vatican.
However, a string of high-profile resignations from his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has complicated the pope’s attempts to resolve the situation.
Francis urged the panel’s remaining members to work with sexual abuse survivors in a “spirituality of reparation” last week.