Pope Francis vows to confront sex abusers with 'the wrath of God'

Pope Francis has vowed to confront clergy sex abusers "with the wrath of God" as he concluded his extraordinary summit on preventing abusers and protecting children in the Catholic Church.

Francis also pledged to end the cover-ups by their superiors and prioritise victims of this “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil”.

Francis delivered his remarks at the end of Mass on Sunday before 190 Catholic bishops and religious superiors summoned to Rome after a renewed explosion of the clergy abuse scandal sparked a credibility crisis in the Catholic hierarchy and in Francis’ own leadership.

"We need to recognize with humility and courage that we stand face-to-face with the mystery of evil, which strikes most violently against the most vulnerable, for they are an image of Jesus," he said.

Francis summoned the bishops from around the world to the four-day meeting to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse and cover-ups aren't just a problem in some countries but a global problem that threatens the very mission of the Catholic Church.

"Brothers and sisters, today we find ourselves before a manifestation of brazen, aggressive and destructive evil," the pope said.

He offered an eight-point pledge of priorities going forward, calling for a change in the church's defensive mentality and a vow to never again cover-up cases.

Francis delivered his remarks at the end of Mass on Sunday before 190 Catholic bishops. Credit: AP

Victims, he said, must take center stage while priests must undergo a continuing path of purity with the "holy fear of God" guiding the examination of their own failures.

"In people's justified anger, the church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons," he said.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge delivered the homily, pledging to "bring justice and healing to survivors of abuse".

He said: "We will listen to them, believe them, walk with them, we will ensure that those who have abused are never again able to offend, we will call to account those who have concealed abuse."

The Archbishop of Brisbane added: "We will educate all our people in what safeguarding requires, we will do all in our power to make sure that the horrors of the past are not repeated and that the Church is a safe place for all, a loving mother especially for the young and the vulnerable."

The Jesuit pope noted that the vast majority of sexual abuse happens in the family.

But he said the evil of sexual abuse of children becomes even more scandalous when it occurs in the Catholic Church “for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility”.