Pope Francis, in his strongest words ever on the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clerics, told survivors Monday that their abuse was „camouflaged with a complicity“ and begged forgiveness.

The private meeting – the first with abuse victims since Francis was elected in March 2013 – had been long awaited by survivor support groups, who have criticized the pope for not acting earlier.

In the sermon at a Mass with six abuse survivors present, Francis said the Church must „must weep and make reparation“ for what happened, and he pleaded for forgiveness for what he said had become „a sacrilegious cult“ that profaned God.

“I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately“ to sex abuse reports, he added.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said two Irish, two British and two German survivors met separately Monday for about 30 minutes apiece with Francis at the Vatican hotel where the pope resides.

None of the survivors wanted to speak with reporters, Lombardi said. Francis had already greeted the group – three men and three women, all adults – Sunday evening while the six were dining at the hotel.

Francis showed „intense and careful“ interest toward the six when meeting them, Lombardi said.

But other abuse survivors not at the meeting predicted the encounter would likely do nothing about their complaints that 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.“
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