Pope Francis has been branded an 'ice-cold, cunning Machiavellian' and a 'liar' by one of his cardinals, a German magazine reports.
The anonymous cardinal made the comments in a bombshell interview with Der Spiegel for its 19-page report on the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.
He said: "The pope preaches mercy, but in reality he is an ice-cold, cunning Machiavellian, and, what is worse – he lies."
The cardinal was referring to claims that Francis knew about sexual abuse allegations against US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick long before he admitted he was aware of them or took any action.
A report from a high-ranking cardinal in August claimed the pope knew about McCarrick in 2013 – but still employed him as a consultant in naming new American bishops until his resignation in July this year.
The Pope declined to comment.
The report was the main item in this week's Der Siegel magazine which featured a picture of the pope on the front and was titled Du Sollst Nicht Lügen (Thou Shalt Not Lie).
The report criticised the pope's handling of abuse allegations generally, stating: 'He often speaks at inopportune moments, yet in important moments remains silent.'
On Tuesday in Estonia, Pope Francis acknowledged that the sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church are driving people away – and admitted the church must change its ways if it wants to keep future generations.
Francis referred directly to the crisis convulsing his papacy on the fourth and final day of his Baltic pilgrimage, which coincided with the release of the devastating new report into decades of sex abuse and cover-up in Germany.
Francis told a gathering of young people in largely secular Estonia Tuesday that he knew many young people felt the church has nothing to offer them and simply doesn't understand their problems today.
He acknowledged their complaints and said: 'We ourselves need to be converted; we have to realize that in order to stand by your side we need to change many situations that, in the end, put you off.'
Meanwhile, Germany's Catholic Church is expected today to confess to and apologise for thousands of cases of sexual abuse against children, part of a global scandal heaping pressure on the Vatican.