VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis begged forgiveness Monday from the victims of clergy sex abuse as he held his first meeting with several abuse survivors — but another victim called the gathering nothing more than "a PR event."
The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing personal "sorrow" in his homily at a private Mass with six victims for the "sins and grave crimes" of clerical sex abuse against them.
Francis pledged "not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not," and promised that bishops "will be held accountable."
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," the pope said.
"This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk," the pope said, according to the English translation of his homily, which was delivered in Spanish.
Francis noted the abuse caused some victims to resort to addictions, or even suicide.
"These deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church," he said.
Advocacy groups for clerical abuse survivors have denounced the Vatican repeatedly for failing to fire or otherwise discipline bishops and other prelates who routinely shuffled known pedophile priests from parish to parish without alerting parishioners to the danger.
Other abuse survivors not at the meeting said the encounter would likely do nothing about their complaints the Vatican has failed to punish bishops and other prelates who systemically covered up the abuse of minors.
A German survivor advocacy spokesman, Norbert Denef, called Monday's meeting "nothing more than a PR event."
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said two Irish, two British and two German victims met with the pope. The three men and three women who had been sexually abused as youths by clergy met privately for about a half-hour each with Francis at his Vatican residence.
"Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness," Francis said in his homily.
None of the victims wanted to speak with reporters, Lombardi said. Francis had already greeted the group Sunday evening while the six were dining at the hotel. The six were allowed to have a relative or other person accompany them, as well as someone to translate in the private conversation with the pope.
Pope Benedict met several times with abuse victims, starting in 2008. Francis, on his trip back from the Middle East in May, promised he would meet with victims this summer.
One Irish survivor of sex abuse by clergy, Marie Collins, has already spent time at the Vatican this year because she serves on a panel set up by Francis to help him deal with the scandals staining the church's reputation in many countries. She would likely have had opportunities to meet with the pontiff.