Pope Francis pleads for personal forgiveness over clerics' sexual abuse of children

(Photo: REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi)A mother holds her child dressed as a Pope before the arrival of Pope Francis to lead the general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican April 9, 2014.

Pope Francis has publicly asked for personal forgiveness stemming from the evil committed by those priests who have sexually abused children.

The pontiff made his plea Friday speaking in Spanish during a message to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) whom he received at the Vatican.

"I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children," said Francis.

This was the first public plea by the Argentine-born Pope who said the Church had to take much stronger against child molestation.

The Catholic Church in March named an abuse victim in a high-level group to deal with the scandal which has in recent years afflicted the Church, especially due to a perceived lack of inaction against the scourge.

"The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed.

"On the contrary, we have to be even stronger; because you cannot interfere with children," the Pope was quoted in the translation given by Vatican Radio.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child grilled Vatican officials in Geneva in February.

It accused the Catholic Church of systematically ignoring decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes by clerics, but Vatican officials said the reports was unfair and slanted.

The website BishopAccountability.org said when the Pope was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013 he "stayed silent" about the crisis of clerical sexual abuse of children in Argentina.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement saying that Pope Francis' words should be received with caution.

"We beg the world's Catholics: be impressed by deeds, not words. Until the pope takes decisive action that protects kids, be sceptical and vigilant," said SNAP Outreach director Barbara Dorris.

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