The Pope was delivering his traditional Christmas speech on Friday, Dec. 21, addressing the Roman Curia, the main governing body of the Catholic Church, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall.
“To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” he said, via Reuters.
“Let it be clear that, faced with these abominations, the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whoever has committed such crimes," the Pope continued. "The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case."
The NPR reports that the Pope further compared priests who break their vows to Judas Iscariot, the notorious traitor who betrayed Jesus, saying that Judas "will always be present in the church," as he represents an element of human weakness.
The comments marked Pope Francis' strongest-ever on the subject, and also appeared to address his own previous mistake, which he made when he defended a bishop in Chile who had been accused of covering up abuse. After an inquiry, that bishop and several others in Chile resigned.
"It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due," he said. "That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole church."
In addition, Pope Francis offered a "heartfelt thanks" to the media for exposing sexual abuse within the church, mentioning journalists "who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims' voices heard."
During his speech, Pope Francis also admitted the difficulty of catching sexual abusers, noting that they often live unnoticed in society.
"This is no easy task, since the guilty are capable of covering their tracks, to the point where many wives, mothers and sisters are unable to detect them," he said, via NBC News. "The victims, too, are carefully selected by their predators [as] often [they] prefer silence and live in fear of shame and the terror rejection."
The 82-year-old's speech comes two months before a summit of bishops in February that plans to discuss the matter further and set a course of action.
Photo Credit: Getty / Vatican Pool