Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 17:10 UK

Pope Benedict XVI promises 'action' on abuse by priests

The Pope after his weekly audience, 21/04/10
The Pope has been under pressure to refer directly to the crisis

Pope Benedict XVI has promised that the Roman Catholic Church will take "action" over child abuse by priests.

The comments are the most explicit he has made in public about a series of recent allegations against the Church.

Speaking in Rome at his weekly general audience, he referred to his weekend meeting with abuse victims in Malta.

"I shared with them their suffering and, with emotion, I prayed with them, promising them action on the part of the Church," he said.

Direct reference

The Pope met eight men, during his visit to Malta on Sunday, who have complained of abuse during their childhood at an orphanage.

"I wanted to meet some people who were victims of abuse by members of the clergy," he said.

One of the men, Lawrence Grech, said the meeting was "very emotional" and that "everybody cried", and that it had given him huge spiritual courage.

The Vatican said afterwards that the Pope had had tears in his eyes.

It said he had "prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future".

However, Wednesday was the first time in recent weeks that the Pope has made his own public comments referring directly to the issue.

Previously he has called on Roman Catholics to "do penance" for their sins, and made other allusions to the crisis, but he has been criticised for making no direct verbal reference to the storm engulfing the Church.

Resignations accepted

There has been a wave of allegations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of paedophilia, sometimes just moving them to new parishes where more children were put at risk.

The Pope himself has been accused of not taking strong enough steps against paedophiles when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.

However, his supporters say he has been the most pro-active pope yet in confronting abuse.

On Tuesday he accepted the resignation of the bishop of Miami, US, who has been accused of covering up abuse cases, and it is thought he will do the same with an Irish bishop on Thursday.

Last week the Vatican made it clear that the policy of zero tolerance of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, adopted by Catholic bishops conferences in the US and in England and Wales, is now applicable worldwide.

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