VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis holds regular private meetings with the victims of sex abuse by paedophile priests, the Vatican said on Thursday (Feb 15), as the Catholic Church grapples with a scandal the pontiff has described as a "great humiliation".
"It's horrible. We must understand how it feels to be a victim of abuse," the Pope said at a meeting with Jesuits during his trip to Chile in January, according to the Civilta Cattolia periodical.
He said he usually met the victims on Fridays.
"They are going through very difficult times, they are devastated," he was quoted as saying by the Jesuit journal.
The Church has been rocked by wide-reaching claims of child sex abuse by priests stretching back over two decades, and Francis came to office promising a zero tolerance approach to the scandal.
The Vatican said the pope's encounters with victims take place several times a month both individually and in groups in the "utmost privacy, to respect the victims and their suffering".
"Pope Francis listens to the victims and tries to help them heal the serious injuries caused by the abuse they suffered," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said.
The Pope sought forgiveness while he was in Chile, but the trip was overshadowed by a report outlining the depth of abuse in the local Church and controversy over his appointment of a Chilean bishop accused of covering up for a paedophile priest.
"This is the greatest of sorrows the Church is suffering. It makes us feel ashamed," Francis was quoted as saying by Civilta Cattolia of the paedophilia scandal.
"For the Church, it is a great humiliation.
"It shows our fragility but also, let's be clear, our level of hypocrisy."