"To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice," the pontiff said in his address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.
However, it was not clear if the Pope was referring to the Church's judicial system, civil justice system or both.
"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 Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case," Pope Francis said, adding that "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."
The pontiff spoke harshly, questioning "how consecrated men, who abuse the weak, using their moral power and persuasion" commit these "abominations" and "continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened."
Illinois Attorney General Accuses Catholic Church of Withholding Names of 500 Priests Accused of Sex Abuse https://t.co/zyzFj1Dm68
The Argentine Pope disclosed that a meeting to be held in February, at the Vatican, with the episcopal conferences around the world "will seek to transform the mistakes made into opportunities to eradicate this scourge not only of the body of the Church but also of society."
Pope Francis lauded the media for unmasking the problem and giving voice to the many victims.
"Even if it were only a case of abuse - which is already a monstrosity in itself - the Church asks that silence not be kept and come to light objectively because the biggest scandal in this matter is to cover up the truth."
The pontiff's statements came days after U.S. Attorney General Lisa Madigan revealed that nearly 700 Catholic priests have been accused of child sexual abuse in recent decades in Illinois.
Presenting the results of an investigation that began in August, Madigan pointed out that sexual abuse accusations in Illinois were not properly investigated by ecclesiastical authorities or "simply were not investigated" at all.