Pope Francis calls critics of Rome “friends of the Devil”

Pope Francis has accused thousands of victims and their families who have been abused by Roman Catholic priests of being related to the Devil.

Yesterday during an address given to pilgrims in southern Italy, Pope Francis said,

“You can’t live all your life by accusing, accusing,  and accusing the church. Who is the accuser? Who in the Bible is called the Great Accuser? Who is it? …The Devil.

Those who spend their lives accusing, accusing, accusing, are not the devil’s children because the devil has none. Friends, cousins and relatives of the devil and this is wrong. Mistakes should be reported to be corrected. When mistakes are reported, when flaws are denounced, the church is loved”.

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Despite Pope Francis opening a summit for Rome’s Bishops to address these issue of abuse,  where he has acknowledged that they must fight the “enemy within” almost every element in this statement by the Pope is appalling. Mistakes? Which mistakes is he talking about? Is Pope Francis referring to thousands of priests slipping their hands into little boys genitals and asking children into having sex with them? Is he talking about the shoddy processes responsible for mishandling sex abuse allegations, or of the deliberate protection offered to perpetrators of these crimes? Even the word, ‘accusing’, which the Pope has chosen to emphasise, is a poor choice of language, for it suggests that there may be reason to doubt the claims being made and even that the person making the allegations is a troublemaker.

This is not the first time that Pope Francis has insulted the victims of abuse. In September 2018 he suggested,

“With people who do not have good will, with people who seek only scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within families,” the answer is “silence. And prayer.”

“May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we must speak and when we must be silent. And [to do] in all of life: in work, at home, in society…” to become more closely imitators of Jesus Christ

As it says in the day’s Gospel, the people “rose up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill… to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.”

Those who drove Jesus out of the city were not people, but “a pack of wild dogs,” …They shouted instead of using reason, and in the face of this, Jesus’ response was to remain silent.”

I responded at the time by asking,

“I certainly hope Pope Francis wasn’t inferring that he is behaving like Jesus and that those asking for clarification of the allegations are not like ‘a pack of wild dogs.’”

Days later Pope Francis added,

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

The Pope’s remarks about the Devil and abuse victims is disgusting. I cannot work out why he would continue to articulate such insensitive and even untrue statements. By them, he is accentuating the pain that is already carried by so many thousands of Catholics, and his comments make a mockery of the message that is the good news of Jesus Christ, which marks out what a Church is about.

I feel compelled to speak up because the Pope’s commentary is wrong and Christian leaders need to respond and correct his galling words. Calling for justice and for repentance is not the work of the Devil. The Devil’s work lays with those evil priests who have abused innocence, and with the bishops and cardinals who have covered over the bloody stains of these heinous acts of betrayal. Surely, demands for the Vatican to change her ways is more in line with the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ.

What does Jesus say? “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Christ’s message to any church who uncovers sinful activity in her midst is repentance and discipline. Churches that either enable sexual abuse or protect guilty persons are not representing Jesus Christ but are defaming his name.

Have we forgotten what happened to the Church in Pergamum? Of this church Jesus said,

12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:12-16)

500 years ago there was a God-given opportunity for Rome to repent and to reform. Many Christians throughout Europe listened to God’s gracious call and they found new life and forgiveness and Churches began to flourish and through them, entire cities and regions were transformed. All the while Rome instead chose to dig in her heels. Today, once again the cries are great, and the frustration is telling.

While the Vatican persists with upholding doctrine that contradicts the beauty and truth of the Gospel, it is should not surprise us to see her continue to obfuscate issues of holiness and morality. The problems are deep, not only legal and material but also spiritual and theological. In once sense Pope Francis has rightly identified an underlying cause in Rome’s current crisis: the Devil is playing his game. But sadly and dreadfully, he is laying fault at the feet of the wrong group of people.