Pope meets with victims of paedophile priests

Pope Francis I at the Vatican. Photo: Getty Images
Pope Francis I at the Vatican. Photo: Getty Images

Pope Francis on Monday held a private meeting with a small group of victims of paedophile priests, inviting them to the early morning mass he celebrates in the chapel of his Vatican residence every day.

The group comprised people from Germany, Britain and Ireland, the ANSA news agency reported.

The Vatican did not officially confirm the information, and was not expected to give much publicity to the event to safeguard the victims' privacy.

Francis had announced the intention to hold such a meeting on his way back from his trip to the Holy Land, in late April.

At the time, he said that, for a priest, sexually abusing a child was as grave a sin as "celebrating a black mass."

The Catholic Church's reputation has been seriously tarnished by worldwide revelations about paedophile priests, and by allegations that for decades its hierarchy failed to punish them or even covered up their crimes.

Francis has pledged to pursue the "zero tolerance" policy followed by his predecessor Benedict XVI, who was the first to meet with clergy sex abuse victims, in 2008, during a trip to the United States, where scandals have had major resonance.

Last month, in a ruling that was widely hailed, a disciplinary church panel defrocked Polish archbishop Josef Wesolowski, after finding him guilty of child sex abuse while serving as a Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

Wesolowski was removed from the post in August, after allegations against him surfaced in the local media. He still faces criminal proceedings before the civilian courts of the Vatican City State, and may end up in jail.

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