Pope Francis told victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics the Church should "weep and make reparation" for crimes he said had taken on the dimensions of a sacrilegious cult.
"For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering," he said in his strongest comments yet on the crimes, delivered at a Mass with adult victims. "So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking."
He said he would not tolerate abusers and bishops would be held accountable if they shielded them.
One prominent critic of the church's long failure to act on the cases, and of the pope's failure to meet victims earlier in his pontificate, said he must quickly follow up on the meeting with clear action to prove it was not just a ceremonial event.
Francis delivered his homily to six victims of abuse, two each from Ireland, Britain and Germany, before meeting all individually at a gathering that lasted nearly four hours, spending about 30 minutes with each one.