Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy members, as he met with six adult survivors at the Vatican on Monday.
“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,” he said during a Mass with the victims, according to NBC News.
It was Pope Francis’ first official meeting with survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and it sparked skeptical reactions. Victim advocacy groups have criticized Francis for waiting more than a year to meet with survivors and for not doing enough to enforce the Catholic Church’s official “no tolerance” policy for abuse.
"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," Francis said. "This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk."
In February, a United Nations committee accused the Vatican of protecting itself more than the victims of abuse and called on the church to immediately remove anyone suspected of abusing children. In May, the UN's Committee Against Torture said more aggressive steps needed to be taken to deal with abuse allegations.
Victims from the pope’s home country of Argentina also criticized Francis for only meeting with European victims — two from Ireland, two from England, and two from Germany. In a letter obtained by Reuters, four victims suggested that the pope bore responsibility for not doing more. “You must know the things that happen here and why the victims have been fighting for so many years, as well as the new cases that are surfacing,'' the letter said.
After becoming pope in March 2013, Francis has spoken frequently about income inequality and social justice, but he has been slower than his predecessor, Pope Benedict, to meet with survivors. In April, Francis asked for forgiveness for those who committed abuse, and a month later called sexual abuse akin to a "Satanic Mass" as he promised to meet with survivors.
In December, Francis established a pontifical commission to address the abuse. The group, which is comprised of eight individuals initially, currently does not include members from the developing world. The commission met Sunday to discuss changing that.
The Catholic Church has spent years reeling from the effects of abuse scandals in every corner of the world. In the U.S. alone, victims have received more than $2.5 billion in compensation.