After a private meeting with a group of sexual abuse victims in Philadelphia, Pope Francis delivered off-script remarks prior to his speech to a group of priests and seminarians on Sunday, pledging "all responsible will be held accountable."
"[Abuse survivors] have become true heralds of mercy," Francis said on the last day of his United States visit, according to a transcript provided by CNN's Jake Tapper. "Humbly, we owe each of them our gratitude for their value as they have had to suffer terrible abuse."
The comments were made days after a similar visit in New York City, where a public support group was held Tuesday. According to Al Jazeera, survivors shared their frustrations with the lack of accountability and action by the Catholic Church to hold priests accountable for abuse, with some stating that Pope Francis has not taken enough action.
"It's been very difficult for Pope Francis to be in my backyard," a member of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said. "There's still so much hurt."
Receiving similar criticism at a prayer service in Washington on Wednesday from abuse survivor advocates, the pope committed to "a careful oversight to ensure that the youth are protected."
The pope has spoken on the issue in the past, stating in an interview published July that one in 50 clerics is a pedophile, and condemning child sex abuse in the church as a "leprosy," according to Italy's La Repubblica daily.
Francis said that the sexual abuse of children "cannot be maintained in secret." Private group Bishop Accountability told Reuters that only 300 of 4,300 Catholic clergymen accused of sexual assault have been convicted.
Later on Sunday, the pope visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, a Philadelphia jail that houses roughly 2,800 inmates. The prisoners made Francis a hand-carved chair, and he pushed for more efforts to rehabilitate criminal offenders.
"It is painful when we see prison systems, which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities," the pope said.
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