Sexual abusers are disgusting “enemies” who deserve to be condemned and punished — but also deserve Christian love and pastoral care because they too are children of God, Pope Francis said.
Francis made his comments on April 29 in a private conversation with Jesuits while he was visiting Hungary.
Francis is also a Jesuit and the comments were published on Tuesday in the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, as is customary after such meetings.
Abuse scandals have shredded the Roman Catholic Church's reputation and have been a major challenge for the pope, who has passed a series of measures over the last 10 years aimed at holding the church hierarchy more accountable, with mixed results.
During Francis' visit, a Hungarian member of the Jesuits religious order asked Francis how it was possible to follow Jesus’ commandment to love enemies when the enemy was a sexual abuser.
“How do we approach, how do we talk to the abusers for whom we feel disgust? Yes, they too are children of God. But how can you love them? It’s a powerful question,” Francis responded.
“The abuser is to be condemned, indeed, but as a brother,” Francis said, calling it “a form of loving the enemy,” although he acknowledged that such an attitude was difficult to live out because of the effect abusers have on people’s lives.
“The abuser is an enemy. Each of us feels this because we empathise with the suffering of the abused ... even talking to the abuser involves revulsion; it’s not easy. But they are God’s children too. They deserve punishment, but they also deserve pastoral care,” he said.
Last week the pope praised the work of an international Vatican commission on sexual abuse prevention and encouraged it to move forward, following the recent acrimonious resignation of a high-profile member who accused it of lacking transparency.