POPE Francis has claimed that people who make accusations against the Roman Catholic Church "without love" are relatives of the devil.
Speaking on the eve of a landmark Vatican summit on the prevention of clerical sex abuse, the pontiff told a congregation of 2,500 pilgrims in Saint Peter's Basilica that those who "live their whole life accusing the Church" are "friends, cousins and relatives of the devil".
He said the Church's "defects" must be denounced in order to correct them, but that it had now become "fashionable" for people to "destroy with the tongue" – behaviour akin to that of the "great accuser".
Francis said: "One cannot live their whole life accusing, accusing, accusing the Church. Whose profession is it to accuse? Who is the 'great accuser' quoted in the Bible?
"Those who spend their lives accusing, accusing, accusing are – I won't say the devil's children, because he doesn't have any – but they are friends, cousins, relatives of the devil.
"This is not right. Defects must be identified so that they can be corrected. When defects are pointed out and denounced, the Church is loved. Without love – that is from the devil."
After concluding his speech, Francis spent a few minutes personally greeting worshippers before setting off ahead of this week's summit.
Some 190 Catholic leaders from around the world – including 10 women – have been called to the Vatican ahead of the four-day gathering, which will take place between Thursday and Sunday.
The event marks the first time in history that a Pope has summoned senior clerics to discuss the sexual abuse allegations that have plagued the Church for decades.