Pope Francis spent parts of Sunday and Monday meeting with six people who had been sexually abused by priests, speaking with them about the lingering effects of their experiences and asking for their forgiveness.
The sessions brought the first official meetings with abuse survivors for Francis; his predecessor, Pope Benedict, met with the victims on several occasions.
From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports:
"Pope Francis met three women and three men, two each from Britain, Germany and Ireland. He spent about a half-hour with each, listening to their stories of suffering.
"Earlier he celebrated Mass, asking for the grace for the church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons.
"Francis said sex abuse of minors is something more than a despicable action; it's like a sacrilegious cult in the church that profaned God.
"Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the participants were very moved, but he did not want to share details of the experience. Lombardi also dismissed support groups' criticism that the event was a public relations stunt. He said it was a profound and spiritual encounter and a profound witness of love."
More about what the pope said comes from the Vatican news service:
"The pope praised the courage of those who spoke up and 'shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the church.' He said he would not tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, and he said bishops must 'foster the protection of minors and they will be held accountable.' "