Breaking with known tradition in the Catholic church, Pope Benedict XVI met with a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests on Thursday in the nation's capital, in a meeting that was kept secret until afterwards. ( dpa )
"He met with a small group of persons who have been abused by members of the clergy," the Vatican said. "The pope listened to their accounts."
Benedict offered encouragement to five or six adults, who had been abused as children, and some of them cried, Vatican spokesman Fredrico Lombardi told reporters.
During the 25-minute meeting, Benedict offered the victims encouragement and they prayed together, Vatican officials said.
The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and the Boston Globe reported that the victims were from the Boston area, seen as the US epicentre of revelations that have plagued the worldwide church since the 1990s.
The meeting came on Day Three of the pope's six-day stay, the first visit to the US by a pope since the first revelations about abuse in the Americas were made in 2002.
The Globe was instrumental in the unveiling of the American side of the story, describing how Cardinal Bernard Law had knowingly approved the shuffling of known pedophile priests from one parish to the next ahead of angry parents.
Law stepped down, but is still a Cardinal in Rome. His successor, Cardinal Sean OMalley, was instrumental in arranging Thursday's encounter with the pope, the Globe reported.
The meeting with the victims occurred in the Vatican's embassy in Washington, where at a morning open-air Mass, Benedict spoke for the third time since Tuesday of the shame and pain of the sexual abuse scandal.
"I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," Benedict said in his homily before 46,000 people gathered in sparkling spring weather for open-air Mass at Washington's baseball stadium. "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse."
"Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation and to assist those who have been hurt," Benedict said.
A survivor's group earlier said Benedict had fallen short of what needs to be done.
David Clohessy, national director Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a telephone interview that the group had hoped Benedict would "in some way publicly chastise or sanction or suspend or defrock bishops who either suspected abuse and kept silent or knew of abuse and concealed it."