07/07/2014 at 11:00 AM EDT
begged forgiveness Monday from the victims of clergy sex abuse as he held his first meeting with several abuse survivors – but a victim spokesman called the gathering nothing more than "a PR event."
The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing personal "sorrow" in his homily at a private Mass with six victims for the "sins and grave crimes" of clerical sex abuse
against them. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said two Irish, two British and two German victims met with the pope. The three men and three women who had been sexually abused as youths by clergy met privately for about a half-hour each with Francis at his Vatican residence.
Francis pledged in his homily "not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not," and promised that bishops "will be held accountable."
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," the pope said.
"This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk," the pope said, according to the English translation of his homily, which was delivered in Spanish.
Francis noted the abuse caused some victims to resort to addictions, or even suicide. "These deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole church," he said.
Advocacy groups for clerical abuse survivors have denounced the Vatican repeatedly – and criticized the otherwise popular Pope Francis
– for failing to fire or otherwise discipline bishops and other prelates who routinely shuffled known pedophile priests from parish to parish without alerting parishioners to the danger.
Other abuse survivors not at the meeting said the encounter would likely do nothing about their complaints the Vatican has failed to punish bishops and other prelates who systemically covered up the abuse of minors. A German survivor advocacy spokesman, Norbert Denef, called Monday's meeting "nothing more than a PR event."