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Pope Francis meets with sex abuse victims

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Francis has vowed not to tolerate the harming of children and asked the victims to forgive the Catholic Church. (Source: FOX News) Francis has vowed not to tolerate the harming of children and asked the victims to forgive the Catholic Church. (Source: FOX News)

(FOX News) – Pope Francis met with sexual abuse victims for the first time as pontiff. The gathering comes nearly 16 months after his election, and is garnering criticism from victims' groups.

Pope Francis celebrated a private mass with six sexual abuse victims and expressed his own pain and distress caused by the actions of abusive clergy members in his homily, calling their crimes, "more than despicable actions."

"It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the charisma of priests in order to be brought to God," Pope Francis said. "And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own lust.''

Francis vowed not to tolerate the harming of a child by anyone, clergy or layperson and asked victims to forgive the Catholic Church for crimes committed against them.

"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," Pope Francis said.

The victims, three men and three women, also met individually with Pope Francis. Each spent about a half an hour with the pontiff.

The meetings were not enough to placate victims groups, some of which criticized the outreach as nothing more than a P.R. gimmick.

"It was not a public relations event," Rev. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office. "It is a very profound, spiritual encounter and dialogue with a pastor, a father, a person that loves and tries to understand deeply.''

The Vatican says it's been referred over 3,400 credible sex abuse accusations against priests in the past decade.

More than 800 clergy members have been removed from the priesthood.

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