Pope Francis: No pardon for priests found guilty of sexual abuse

Pope Francis leads the opening mass for the synod of bishops on the family at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican October 3, 2015. | Reuters/Max Rossi

Pope Francis has stated on Thursday that priests who have been found guilty of sexually abusing minors will have no right to appeal and he will never grant a papal pardon.

In a meeting with his advisory commission on child protection, the pope acknowledged that the Catholic Church was a "bit late" in realizing the damage done by priests who rape and molest children.

He endorsed a "zero tolerance" approach to all church members who are proven to be guilty of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults, Catholic Herald reported.

The pontiff said that if there is proof that an ordained minister has committed abuse, then that is "sufficient (reason) to receive no recourse" for appeal. "If there is proof. End of story," he said, adding that the sentence "is definitive."

He said that he has never granted papal pardon to a proven perpetrator in the past, and vowed that he would never do so in the future.

"Why? Simply because the person who does this (sexually abuses minors) is sick. It is a sickness," he told the advisory commission during an audience at the Vatican on Thursday.

The commission, established by the pope in 2014, is composed of a group of outside experts who advise the pontiff and the Church on best practices to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and protect children. In its three years, it has held educational workshops in dioceses around the world, but it has also faced some resistance to some of its proposals at the Vatican.

Francis said that the commission has to "swim against the tide" because of a lack of understanding or seriousness of the problem.

"When consciousness comes late, the means for resolving the problem comes late. I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality: We have arrived late," the pope said.

He also suggested that "the old practice of moving people" from place to another and not fully facing the problem "lulled consciences to sleep."

He told the commission that he has been learning "on the job" to find better ways to handle abusive priests. He said that he had come to regret his decision in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, rather than laicizing him as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had recommended.

The statutes and membership of the advisory commission are currently up for review, according to Religion News Service. At present, its ranks are filled by priests, nuns and experts, including noted sociologists and psychologists, but it remains to be seen whether survivors of abuse will be included in the new membership roster.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston and head of the commission, told the pope that the commission had "benefited greatly" from listening to the survivors, but he did not mention whether abuse victims were under consideration for membership.

The commission's most prominent member, Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, had resigned in frustration in March due to the stiff resistance to some of its proposals at the Vatican.