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 John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

ROME, February 20 (LifeSiteNews) — Those who spend their lives accusing the Church are the “friends, cousins and relatives of the devil,” Pope Francis said today, on the eve of the Vatican clergy sex abuse summit.

The statement comes as the world’s media is focused on the Vatican as it tackles accusations of clergy sexual abuse, silence and coverup. 

In a Feb. 20 address to pilgrims from the southern Italian diocese of Benevento — the birthplace of St. Padre Pio — the Pope warned against what he called the “fashionable” trend of destroying the Church with one’s tongue. 

“One cannot live one’s whole life accusing, accusing, accusing the Church,” he said. “Whose office is it to accuse? Who is the one the Bible calls the Great Accuser? The devil! And those who spend their lives accusing, accusing, accusing, are — I will not say children, because the devil doesn’t have any — but friends, cousins, relatives of the devil.” 

The assertion that the devil has no children is surprising given the clear statement of Jesus to the contrary in John 8:44, when the Lord said to those who denied their slavery to sin: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” 

The Pope’s latest “Great Accuser” comments come one day before the opening of a widely anticipated Vatican summit on the “Protection of Minors in the Church.” The meeting, which will gather presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world together with the Pope, was called due to growing public anger, especially in the United States, over the McCarrick case, and a host of other abuse scandals that have come to light in the US, Europe, Latin America and Australia.

His comments also come the day after Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller wrote an open letter to the presidents of bishops’ conferences attending this week’s Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse, calling on them to “raise their voices” on the moral corruption in the Church, and after a coalition of 100 Catholic laity mobilized in Rome’s historic center to silently “oppose the Vatican’s policy of silence about homosexuality” in the abuse crisis. 

The original text Pope Francis was to deliver to the pilgrims of Benevento was limited to remarks about Padre Pio. His “relatives of the devil” comments were therefore off the cuff. 

Absent an act of God or heroic courage on the part of bishop participants, many observers believe the meeting will be a “failure,” a “masterpiece of hypocrisy,” or a smokescreen that perpetuates sin and coverup within the Church. 

The Pope’s words today — if understood to mean attempts to harm the Church through lies and false accusations — concur with scripture, tradition and the writings of the saints, all of which speak not only of the need to bridle one’s tongue, but also of the devil’s persecution and hellish pursuit to destroy the Catholic Church.

However, in light of past statements and present scandals, it is unclear to whom the Pope is referring when he speaks of the “friends, cousins and relatives of the devil.”

As LifeSite reported in December, the Pope’s new editorial director of Vatican communications, Andrea Tornielli, has openly named Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò as the “Great Accuser.”

In Tornielli’s view, Archbishop Viganò earned the title for alleging in his 11-page explosive testimony that, in 2013, as nuncio to the United States, he personally told Pope Francis that McCarrick had corrupted “generations of seminarians and priests.” 

In a Nov. 6 television interview to promote his book on the Viganò testimony, Tornielli — who one month later was appointed the editorial director of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communications — also named Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong as “another great accuser” of Pope Francis.

In his Feb. 20 address to pilgrims from Benevento, the Pope extolled St. Padre Pio — a priest, mystic and stigmatist who could read hearts — for “his firm faith in God, firm hope in heavenly realities, generous dedication to people, and fidelity to the Church, which he has always loved with all its problems and adversities.”

Padre Pio “loved the Church” with her many “problems, adversities and sinners,” Pope Francis said. “Because the Church is holy, she is the Bride of Christ; but we, the children of the Church, are all sinners — and some of us big ones! — but he loved the Church as she was, he didn’t destroy it with his tongue, as it’s fashionable to do nowadays.”

One who “loves the Church” knows how to forgive, because “he knows he is a sinner” in need of God’s forgiveness, he told pilgrims from Benevento, who were in Rome to repay the Pope’s visit to the Sanctuary of Padre Pio last March. One who loves “knows how to fix things,” he added, “because the Lord wants to fix things well, but always with forgiveness.”

“You must point out defects in order to correct, but when you point out the defects, when you denounce the defects, you love the Church,” he added. “Without love, that is of the devil.” 

“St. Padre Pio had both,” the Pope observed. “He loved the Church with all its problems and with the sins of his children.”

“Don’t forget this,” he said.

In his address, the Pope also encouraged the pilgrims to “accept more and more the love of God” and his “divine charity” and to “give this life-changing love, especially to people who weaker and in need,” after the example of Padre Pio and St. Francis. 

“Sometimes one has to speak,” he told them, “but begin with witness, live as Christians, witnessing that love is more beautiful of hatred, that friendship is more beautiful than enmity, and that brotherhood among all of us is more beautiful than war.” 

Yesterday’s silent protest in the heart of Rome demonstrated that Catholics are earnestly praying that bishops will speak up at the Feb. 21-24 Vatican sex abuse summit. 

As the organizers of the Feb. 19 Acies ordinata silent protest said: “Ours is an appeal to Bishops who are silent, that someone among them may have the courage to break the silence. Will there be a Shepherd who dares to tell the truth to the Holy Father?”