ROME— Those who spend their lives accusing the Church are the “friends, cousins and relatives of the devil,” Pope Francis said 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 other abuse that has come to light in the US, Europe, Latin America and Australia.

His comments 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. 

It is unclear to whom the Pope is referring when he speaks of the “friends, cousins and relatives of the devil.” 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.