LONDON – Pope Benedict XVI again apologized for the suffering endured by those abused within the Roman Catholic Church in a meeting with victims Saturday.
The pope spent 40 minutes with five people who had been abused by Catholic priests as children and prayed with the victims, whose suffering reportedly stirred in him "sorrow and shame."
"He (the pope) was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered," reported a spokesperson for the pontiff.
"As he has done on other occasions, he prayed that all the victims of abuse might experience healing and reconciliation, and be able to overcome their past and present distress with serenity and hope for the future."
The pope also sought to assure the victims that the Catholic Church was continuing to implement "effective measures" to ensure the safety of young people in its care and that it was continuing to collaborate with civil authorities in bringing suspected abusers to justice.
The meeting was preceded by the pope's strongest-yet apology for the scandal, which was delivered in a mass at Westminster Cathedral on Friday.
In the message, Benedict expressed his "deep sorrow" at the "immense suffering" caused by pedophile priests.
"I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ's grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives," Benedict said.
Later in the day, the pope met safeguarding professionals and volunteers responsible for child protection. The pontiff told them of the need for preventative measures to be "maintained with vigilance" and any allegations of abuse to be dealt with "swiftly and justly."
He said, "It is deplorable that, in such marked contrast to the Church's long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious."
While insisting that there should never be grounds for complacency, the pope said the efforts by the Catholic Church in Britain and elsewhere in the last ten years to ensure the safety of children and young people "should be acknowledged."
According to reports, there are 28 nations in which Roman Catholic priests have been accused of child abuse. After the United States, the country with the next highest number of cases is Ireland. A significant number of cases have also been reported in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia.