Jubilant scenes greeted Pope Benedict XVI when he became head of the Catholic Church five years ago. Today, on the anniversary of his papacy, there is little to celebrate.
The Vatican’s moral authority has been undermined by revelations that hundreds of children were sexually abused by priests over several decades.
Pope Benedict has never spoken directly about the crisis in public. But during a visit to Malta this weekend he met with some of the victims and wept as he heard their stories.
Witnesses said the pontiff pledged the church would do all in its power to protect the young and bring the guilty to justice.
It is being seen as a sign that the Vatican intends to co-operate with civil authorities to prosecute perpetrators.
“He promised he was going to pray for me. he told me I’m grateful to you, for having the courage to show your face,” said victim Lawrence Grech.
“The first chapter was meeting the Pope and I hope this experience is going to change my life. To be able to go to my daughter and say, I believe.”
The pope has proved a controversial figure, attracting a barrage of negative press.
His portrayal of Islam as a violent religion sparked protests by Muslims while his decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying Bishop caused uproar around the world.