Pope Francis demanded on Friday that predator priests turn themselves in and vowed that the Catholic Church will never again cover up child abuse allegations.
Francis was giving his annual pre-Christmas address to Vatican bureaucrats at a time the church has been confronted with revelations of decades of child sexual abuse and cover-ups around the globe.
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“Let it be clear that before these abominations the church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes,” he said. “To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
Pope urges victims to come forward
Francis also urged victims to come forward and thanked the media for bringing to light sexual abuse and cover-ups.
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“The church asks that people not be silent, but bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth,” he said.
“I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard,” he said.
It celebrates its 1,000th birthday — an impressive age! But the cathedral in Worms isn’t the only one in Germany that can look back on such a long history.
Germany’s oldest cathedral is in its oldest city, Trier. The Romans didn’t export just their thermal baths and temples to the Moselle, but also Christianity. Trier became a bishop’s seat in 313 AD, and acquired a massive church. In the ninth century, the High Cathedral of St. Peter was built on the Roman foundations. It’s now considered the oldest episcopal church in Germany.
Trier Cathedral’s most valuable relic is the Holy Robe of Jesus. Tradition has it that Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, took the seamless garment to Trier in the fourth century. It’s only on show during rare pilgrimages by invitation of the Bishopric of Trier. The last Holy Robe pilgrimage took place in 2012. So far no date has been set for the next one.
The emperor Charlemagne wanted to build a new Rome, in Aachen, in the middle of his huge empire. The ground-breaking ceremony was in 790 AD. The palatine chapel that forms the core of today’s cathedral was built in a mere ten years. In 1978 Aachen Cathedral became the first German cultural monument to be included in the UNESCO world heritage list, because of its age and magnificence.
A look into the cupola is impressive. It is 32 meters high — nothing special in present-day terms, but it seemed vast to our ancestors. During the course of centuries, 30 German kings and emperors were crowned under this cupola. Another interesting statistic: a total of 32 million mosaic tiles are built into Aachen Cathedral.
Charlemagne died in 814 AD and was buried in the Aachen Cathedral. His remains lie in this golden shrine. The last time it was opened, in 1988, researchers discovered that, at 1.84 meters, the emperor was almost a head taller than his contemporaries, so Charles quite justifiably bore his royal epithet, “the Great.”
Mainz Cathedral has already celebrated its 1,000th birthday twice: in 1975, on the anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone, and in 2009, the anniversary of its completion in 1009. But as can easily be seen every year in the carnival season, the people of Mainz love to celebrate, and they’re preparing for another 1,000th anniversary associated with their cathedral.
Before the cathedral could be consecrated in 1009, it burned down. The consecration didn’t take place until 1036, after rebuilding was finished. So the people of Mainz will be able to hail their 1,000-year-old cathedral again in 2036, and the golden cockerel, the “Domsgickel,” atop the weather vane on its steeple, which has become a city landmark, can observe the proceedings from above.
There is no doubt about this cathedral in Bamberg, as its history is very well documented: it was consecrated on May 6, 1012, the birthday of the German King Henry II with pomp and circumstance. There were 45 bishops among the guests, in addition, of course, to the king and his retinue. He is buried in the cathedral next to his wife Kunigunde, but he is not the main attraction.
This sculpture is like a pop star in the Bamberg Cathedral. To this day it puzzles experts. Who is the horseman — king, emperor or nobleman? And what is the horse doing in the church? All that is certain is that it’s the first life-size equestrian statue since classical antiquity. It dates from the 13th century, and tourists from around the world flock to the Bamberg Cathedral to see it.
This cathedral in the state of Saxony-Anhalt celebrated its 1,000th anniversary in 2015. It owes its existence to Bishop Thietmar, who laid the foundation stone for the cathedral on the eastern border of the German Empire in 1015. Its old walls provide an excellent Hollywood backdrop. In 2013, George Clooney shot the feature film The Monuments Men here.
In 1841 two manuscripts written in Old High German were discovered in the library of Merseburg Cathedral: incantations to Germanic gods to free prisoners and heal horses. The manuscripts from the 10th century are considered the oldest documents from German mythology: pagan magic spells in a Christian church make it renowned to this day.
Hildesheim Cathedral is old, but the rose bush on the church wall is older. According to legend, wild roses once twined around a valuable reliquary on this spot, so, in 815 AD, Emperor Louis the Pious ordered a chapel to be built there. It was later succeeded by the cathedral, which was consecrated in 1061, so its 1,000th anniversary is still a few decades in the future.
Despite its name, researchers have discovered that the rose is only 700 years old. Many people still come to Hildesheim every year in May, when it blooms. By the way, the cathedral was almost entirely destroyed during World War II and the rose bush burned to the ground, but after eight weeks 25 new shoots sprouted from its rubble-covered roots. It seems miraculous to this day.
St. Peter’s Cathedral in Worms now numbers among the thousand-year-olds. It was consecrated in 1018 AD by the property-owner and bishop, Burchard of Worms. Two years later the western part of the basilica collapsed. That marked the beginning of many alterations and additions that Worms Cathedral, like so many others, has undergone. So happy birthday, Worms — or more appropriately, hallelujah!
The pope lambasted consecrated men who abuse their power and position to take advantage of vulnerable people
“They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgement, but only of being found out and unmasked,” he said. “Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls.”
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Sexual abuse on a global scale
The address reflected the seriousness of a slew of sexual abuse scandals that have hit the church this year from the United States and Germany to Chile and Australia.
It’s not that easy to capture the twin spires of this symbol of Cologne in one picture. At a height of 150 meters, Cologne Cathedral is the world’s third-tallest church. It took more than 500 years to build, but it was worth it. This magnificent Gothic structure is one of the most popular sights in Germany.
A cupola that weighs tons but still seems to float: the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, in Dresden was rebuilt with donations from around the world after it was destroyed in World War II. Just as it did when it was first opened in 1743, it is once again part of the skyline of the Baroque city on the River Elbe.
The distinctive steeple with the copper top has pointed mariners the way up the Elbe to Hamburg since the 17th century. St. Michael’s Church, which the locals simply call “Michel,” is considered the most beautiful Baroque church in northern Germany.
Small city, big church! At a height of 161.53 meters, Ulm Minster’s tower is the tallest in the world. Visitors have to be in good shape to climb the 768 steps to the observation platform. They’ll be rewarded with a view that, in good weather, reaches all the way to the Alps.
The old church tower is a reminder of the destruction in World War II, the new tower a reminder of the exertions of rebuilding. “Lipstick and powder compact” – that’s the nickname Berliners gave the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when it was re-consecrated in 1961. It’s now one of the landmarks in the western part of central Berlin.
Charlemagne laid the foundation stone for the cathedral in 800 AD and made it the heart of his empire. As the place where German kings were once crowned, it is one of the most important churches in the Western world. In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was the first building in Germany to be made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
And this is the most recent German addition: in 2018, Naumburg Cathedral became the 43rd cultural landmark to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The lifelike sandstone sculptures by an unknown master are among the highlights of this Romanesque-Gothic cathedral.
Munich’s Frauenkirche, the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady, stands in the heart of the Bavarian city and can be seen from far away. No neighboring building is allowed to be more than 100 meters in height, so that Munich’s skyline remains intact. The church’s distinctive towers with their bulbous domes are modeled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Palm-topped columns adorn the interior of St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, but there is also a column in front of it, to commemorate the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989. At the time, the Nikolaikirche was the starting point for the Leipzig Monday demonstrations that heralded the end of the GDR and the division of Germany.
Hildesheim in Lower Saxony is home to some 40 churches. The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary is 1,200 years old and a jewel of Romanesque architecture. What is known as the “Thousand-Year Rose” grows in the courtyard of its cloisters. Researchers now think it may be a mere 700 years old, but with dimensions like these, who would bother to be so petty?
A Baroque gem on the shores of Lake Constance: the exterior of the church is fairly simple, but inside, its full splendor is revealed, with countless sculpted figures of angels, ceiling frescoes and opulent ornamentation. Incidentally, the tower clock dates from 1750 and is the oldest working clock in Germany.
To the left, St. Mary’s Cathedral and to the right, the Church of St. Severus: this imposing ensemble rises over Erfurt’s Old Town. Perhaps the residents of Erfurt were especially devout, or had too much money. In any case, the result is impressive: two examples of the finest Gothic architecture right next to each other.
Francis came under fire earlier this year when he defended a bishop in Chile accused of covering up sex abuse scandals, only to later launch an investigation and accept the bishop’s resignation. He ultimatelydefrocked three Chilean bishops.
“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.”
The address comes two months before the pontiff convenes bishops for a conference on responding to sexual abuse during which the “church will restate her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification,” Francis said.
cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)