Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the “evil” damage to children caused by sexual abusers in the clergy.
In quotes carried by Vatican Radio, he described the abuse as a “moral damage carried out by men of the Church”, and said “sanctions” would be imposed.
It is being described as his strongest statement on the issue so far.
Last month, Pope Francis strongly defended the Roman Catholic Church’s record on tackling sexual abuse by priests, following UN criticism.
The Pope set up a committee last year to organise help for victims of clerical sexual abuse but has been accused by some Catholics of dragging his feet in acknowledging the extent of the moral and mental damage caused by paedophile priests, the BBC’s David Willey reports from Rome.
Pope Francis made the statement on Friday, during a meeting with a Catholic children’s non-governmental organisation, the Vatican Radio website reports.
He said he had felt compelled to “personally ask for forgiveness for the damage [some priests] have done for having sexually abused children”.
“We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he said, adding: “We have to be even stronger”.