The Vatican prosecutor of clerical sex abuse has warned perpetrators that they would suffer damnation in hell that would be worse than the death penalty.
The Rev Charles Scicluna, a Maltese priest and a top official at the Vatican's morality office, led a special “make amends” prayer service in St Peter's Basilica at the weekend.
Seminarians and other pontifical university students in Rome wanted to pray for victims of clergy abuse and for the healing of the church's wounds from the scandal over its concealment of abuse.
Quoting Gregory the Great, an early pope and monk who made rules for the clergy, Mr Scicluna said in the case of a paedophile priest “it would be really better that his evil deeds cause him death in his lifetime” under secular laws than suffer “more terrible damnation” in hell.
Mr Scicluna has been leading the Vatican's drive to rid the church of paedophile priests. Many victims' groups say the Vatican must admit responsibility for a decades-old culture of secrecy and systematic cover-ups.
The Vatican official likened children to a “holy icon” and decried what the world becomes when children are “abused, destroyed”.
“Don't make children the object of your impure covetousness,” Mr Scicluna said to the priests.