Pope Francis has likened the sexual abuse of children by priests to a “satanic Mass” – and announced his first meeting with a group of victims at the Vatican. Speaking to reporters on the plane taking him back from his Middle East trip, he also said he was in favour of celibacy for priests but that the “the door is always open” to change. In arguably his toughest statement on a crisis which has beset the Church for more than a decade, he said he would show zero tolerance for anyone who abused children. Asked about his approach to bishops who were accused of sexual abuse, he said “there will be no daddy’s boys”, adding that three bishops were currently being investigated. “Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime … because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord,” he said.
“It is like a satanic Mass.”
He said he would hold a meeting with around eight victims of sexual abuse at the Vatican early in June. It would be attended by Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, who is leading a commission set up to study ways of dealing with the issue. Asked whether the Catholic Church could some day allow priests to marry as they can in some other Christian churches, he said: “Celibacy is not a dogma. “It is a rule of life that I appreciate very much and I think it is a gift for the Church but since it is not a dogma, the door is always open.” The Pontiff went on to reveal he would travel to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January 2015. He also suggested he may follow in emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s footsteps and retire if he felt he no longer had the strength to do the job.