Pope Francis has delivered one of his strongest pleas yet over child sex abuse.
In his first public appeal for forgiveness, he described as “evil” priests who molested children.
Last month, the Catholic church set up a high-level group, including an abuse victim, to investigate the scandal which has plagued it for more than two decades.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests – quite a few in number, (although) obviously not compared to the number of all priests – to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” he told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau.
“The church is aware of this … 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 to the sanctions that must be imposed,” he added in unscripted comments as he addressed the children’s rights body.
Pope Francis did not specify whether “sanctions” would be church-enforced or involve civil justice authorities.
In February, a scathing UN report accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the church to immediately hand over its records on the abuse of tens of thousands of children, immediately remove anyone suspected of abuse from their post and refer the matter to civil legal authorities.