VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of clerical abuse victims Sunday and promised them the Catholic Church would implement "effective measures" to protect young people in the future.
The Vatican said Benedict expressed his "shame and sorrow" at the pain the men and their families suffered and prayed with them during the meeting at the Vatican's embassy in Malta.
It was the first time Benedict had met with abuse victims since the worldwide clerical abuse scandal engulfed the Vatican earlier this year.
"He 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," a Vatican statement said.
Victims' advocacy groups have demanded that the Vatican take concrete steps to protect children and remove abusive priests, saying the pope's expressions to date of solidarity and shame are meaningless unless actual action is taken.
Benedict's overnight trip to Malta — scheduled to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul's shipwreck — has been overshadowed by expectations that the pope would make a strong gesture to repair the damage of the scandal.
Benedict has been accused by victims' groups and their lawyers of being part of systematic practice of cover-up by church hierarchy for pedophile priests, in his earlier roles as an archbishop in Germany and later at the helm of the Vatican morals office.
Ten Maltese men came forward earlier this month saying they wanted to meet with the pope to tell him their stories and to request an apology. They say they were abused by four priests at a Catholic orphanage.
Benedict made no direct reference to the scandals during a Mass Sunday morning. He told Maltese to cling to their faith despite the temptations of modern society.
"Many voices try to persuade us to put aside our faith in God and his church," he warned.