VATICAN CITY — In his first meeting with a group of Catholics who were sexually abused by clergy, Pope Francis on Monday begged for forgiveness for church leaders’ failure to “respond adequately.”

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said two Irish, two British and two German victims met separately Monday for about 30 minutes apiece with Francis at the pope’s Vatican hotel. None of the victims attended Lombardi’s briefing with reporters. Lombardi said Francis had already greeted the six Sunday evening at dinner.

The Vatican quoted Francis as expressing “sorrow” in his homily at a private Mass with six victims Monday for the “sins and grave crimes” of clerical sex abuse against them.

Added the pope: “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately” to sex abuse reports.

Other abuse survivors not at the meeting contended the encounter won’t ease complaints that 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.”

Before Francis, Pope Benedict met several times with abuse victims, starting in 2008.

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