Pope meets with sex-abuse victims, promises accountability

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Pope Vows to Combat Sexual Abuse of Youth

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pope Francis met with victims of child sexual abuse Sunday on the final day of his U.S. visit and promised to hold accountable those responsible for the scandal in the church, delivering a powerful warning to American bishops accused of covering up for pedophile priests instead of reporting them to police.

In a gesture of reconciliation just hours before he was to return to Rome, the pope told the victims he is "deeply sorry" for all the times they came forward to report the abuse and weren't believed. He assured them that he believes them.

"I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead," Francis said in Spanish while in the City of Brotherly Love for a big festival on the Catholic family. "Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children."

See more of Philadelphia preparing for the pope's visit in the gallery below:

21 PHOTOS
NTP: New York, Philadelphia prepare for Pope Francis
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Pope meets with sex-abuse victims, promises accountability
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis paraphernalia is sold in Times Square on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will speak tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral; he is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5P.M. this evening. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Sister Mary Marta (L) and Sister Marie Frank, both of Missionaries of Charity Convent, pray while waiting in line to stand along 5th Avenue to watch as Pope Francis drives by while he is en route to St. Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will speak tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral; he is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5P.M. this evening. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pedestrians take photographs of Pope Francis dolls displayed in front of a 7-Eleven on 5th Avenue on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Sister Mary Marta (L) and Sister Marie Frank, both of Missionaries of Charity Convent, pray while waiting in line to stand along 5th Avenue to watch as Pope Francis drives by while he is en route to St. Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will speak tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral; he is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5P.M. this evening. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A man sells Pope Francis paraphernalia in Times Square on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will speak tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral; he is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5P.M. this evening. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis dolls are displayed next to apples in front of a 7-Eleven on 5th Avenue on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A photograph of Pope Francis hangs in the entrance of Pauline Books and Media on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A broadcast of Pope Francis's speech to Congress plays next to Pope Francis-related merchandise at Pauline Books and Media on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis-related merchandise is displayed at Pauline Books and Media on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: A t-shirt with an image of Pope Francis is displayed in front of a store on September 23, 2015 in New York City. Preparations are underway in the city for the first visit of Pope Francis starting on September 24. Amid tight security the Pope will conduct a number of events including a motorcade through Central Park and Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A woman prays with a rosary while waiting in line to stand along 5th Avenue to watch as Pope Francis drives by while he is en route to St. Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will speak tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral; he is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5P.M. this evening. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A Pope Francis cut-out stands next to a customer at Pauline Books and Media on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Yankei Mauricio leads prayers while waiting in line to stand along 5th Avenue to watch as Pope Francis drives by while he is en route to St. Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will speak tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral; he is scheduled to land at John F. Kennedy Airport at 5P.M. this evening. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A man begs for change next to Pope Francis dolls for sale at a 7-Eleven on 5th Avenue on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis, who is traveling to The United States for the first time as Pope, arrives in New York on the evening of September 24, before leading an evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: A woman checks her phone as she walks between a concrete bollard and a metal barrier erected around Central Park ahead of a visit by Pope Francis, on September 23, 2015 in New York City. Preparations are underway in the city for the first visit of Pope Francis starting on September 24. Amid tight security the Pope will conduct a number of events including a motorcade through Central Park and Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: People tie prayer slips to a wooden foundation at a public art installation called the ÃKnotted Grottoà outside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints. Peter and Paul where Pope Francis is scheduled to speak on September 22, 2015 in New York City. The project, which features hundreds of 'knots', or prayer slips, seeks to represent the struggles individuals go through in life's journey. The Pope will be making his first trip to the United States on a three-city, five-day tour that will begin in Washington on September 22, then travel to New York City and Philadelphia. The Pope will depart on September 27. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: People tie prayer slips to a wooden foundation at a public art installation called the ÃKnotted Grottoà outside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints. Peter and Paul where Pope Francis is scheduled to speak on September 22, 2015 in New York City. The project, which features hundreds of 'knots', or prayer slips, seeks to represent the struggles individuals go through in life's journey. The Pope will be making his first trip to the United States on a three-city, five-day tour that will begin in Washington on September 22, then travel to New York City and Philadelphia. The Pope will depart on September 27. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: A woman sells t-shirts with a picture of the Pope in downtown Philadelphia where Pope Francis is scheduled to visit on September 22, 2015 in New York City. The project, which features hundreds of 'knots', or prayer slips, seeks to represent the struggles individuals go through in life's journey. The Pope will be making his first trip to the United States on a three-city, five-day tour that will begin in Washington on September 22, then travel to New York City and Philadelphia. The Pope will depart on September 27. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: A sign advertises Pope Francis merchandise in downtown Philadelphia where Pope Francis is scheduled to visit on September 22, 2015 in New York City. The project, which features hundreds of 'knots', or prayer slips, seeks to represent the struggles individuals go through in life's journey. The Pope will be making his first trip to the United States on a three-city, five-day tour that will begin in Washington on September 22, then travel to New York City and Philadelphia. The Pope will depart on September 27. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: A man sells t-shirts with a picture of the Pope in downtown Philadelphia where Pope Francis is scheduled to visit on September 22, 2015 in New York City. The project, which features hundreds of 'knots', or prayer slips, seeks to represent the struggles individuals go through in life's journey. The Pope will be making his first trip to the United States on a three-city, five-day tour that will begin in Washington on September 22, then travel to New York City and Philadelphia. The Pope will depart on September 27. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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"I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead," Francis said in Spanish while in the City of Brotherly Love for a big festival on the Catholic family. "Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children."

It was Francis' second such meeting: He received sexual abuse victims at the Vatican in July 2014.

But in an apparent effort by the church to reshape the discussion, the Vatican said not all five of the victims on Sunday were abused by members of the clergy; some of the three women and two men had been victimized by relatives or educators.

Later Sunday, Francis visited a Philadelphia jail to give hope and encouragement to about 100 inmates, included suspected killers, rapists and mobsters.

Watch more coverage below:

Highlights of Pope Francis's Last Day in Philadelphia

In the afternoon, the pope was scheduled to celebrate a final Mass on U.S. soil on Philadelphia's grandest boulevard, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with organizers predicting a crowd of 1 million.

It was expected to be the biggest event of his six-day U.S. trip, a triumphant whirlwind journey that also took him to Washington and New York, where he drew large and adoring crowds, met with President Barack Obama, visited ground zero and addressed Congress and the United Nations, calling for urgent action on climate change and poverty.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been hit hard by the sexual abuse scandal and has been the subject of repeated grand jury investigations, including one that accused it keeping on assignment more than three dozen priests facing serious accusations. A monsignor was found guilty of endangering children by not removing pedophile priests, becoming the first American church official convicted of such an offense.

The pope has agreed to create a new Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who failed to protect their flock, and he has accepted the resignations of three U.S. bishops accused of mishandling cases. During the previous meeting with victims, he similarly vowed to hold bishops accountable.

See more from the pope's visit to the United States below:

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Pope Francis: Mass at Madison Square Garden
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Pope meets with sex-abuse victims, promises accountability
Pope Francis celebrates high Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept 25, 2015, in New York. (Alejandra Villa/Newsday via AP, Pool)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Participants listen to Pope Francis as he celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope ends his New York visit after a day of activities with the mass at Madison Square Garden and leaves for Philadelphia in the morning. (Photo by Alejandra Villa - Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: The clergy and Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope ends his New York visit after a day of activities with the mass at Madison Square Garden and leaves for Philadelphia in the morning. (Photo by Alejandra Villa - Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrating Mass Madison Square Garden September 25, 2015 in New York. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The pope is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, that included a stop in Washington D.C. and includes one in Philadelphia. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives to lead mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The pope is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, that included a stop in Washington D.C. and includes one in Philadelphia. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Pope Francis listens to the readings while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
Gloria Estefan sings "Mas Alla" prior to Pope Francis celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 in New York. (Andrew Burton/Pool Photo via AP)
Harry Connick Jr. sings "How Great Thou Art" prior to the Mass led by Pope Francis at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis enters Madison Square Garden to lead mass on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A crucifix hangs above member of the clergy who watch as Pope Francis, not shown, celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 New York. (Michael Appleton/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
A participant listens as Pope Francis delivers his homily during Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
A participant takes a photo as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington DC, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Michael Appleton-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Participants watch as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
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At the same time, Francis and U.S. bishops have also argued that child molestation is a serious problem beyond the church, especially within families and in schools. The meeting with victims abused by people other than priests underscored that point.

Victim support groups were unimpressed by Sunday's meeting, which took place a day after the pope celebrated Mass with Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was the leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese when it was accused of sheltering pedophiles.

The main victims' support group, SNAP, dismissed the meeting as an exercise in public relations.

"Is a child anywhere on Earth safer now that a pope, for maybe the seventh or eighth time or ninth time, has briefly chatted with abuse victims? No," said SNAP's David Clohessy.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked at the Vatican embassy in Washington and is now an advocate for victims, said that including more than just victims of abusive clergy "seriously minimizes" the problem in the church.

"We don't think we're going to get any real support to change this from the leadership in the Vatican," Doyle said in a phone interview. "They're having this big meeting of families. But there's been no real room for all the families that the Catholic Church has destroyed through sexual abuse."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope met with the victims for more than a half-hour at the St. Charles Borromeo seminary. He said the pope prayed with them, listened to their stories and expressed his closeness in their suffering and his "pain and shame" in the case of those abused by priests.

Separately, the pope met with American bishops in town for the family festival and repeated to them face-to-face his vow to hold them accountable for their misdeeds.

"God weeps," he said.

During the meeting with the bishops, Francis referred to gay marriage for the first time in his U.S. trip, lamenting the new reality in which Christians must live.

But he also urged the bishops to redirect their energy away from complaining about it, saying a church that does nothing but explain its doctrine is "dangerously unbalanced" and "stuck in a vicious circle."

The U.S. bishops have spent considerable time and resources battling gay marriage, calling its legalization by the U.S. Supreme Court three months ago "a tragic error" and "profoundly immoral and unjust."

During the pope's jail visit, he greeted the men one by one, along with their families, telling them to spend their time behind bars getting their lives back on track.

"May you make possible new opportunities, new journeys, new paths," he said, standing before a wooden chair the inmates had made for him for the occasion.

The blue-uniformed men and women, some of them heavily tattooed, seemed moved by the encounter. They clasped Francis' hands, and two gave him a hug. Some spoke to him in Spanish. They also presented him with a basket of jail-grown vegetables.

The pope has criticized prison systems that only punish and humiliate prisoners, and he has denounced life prison terms and isolation as a form of torture. During his speech to Congress, he called for the abolition of the death penalty.

Hours before Sunday's Mass, Roman Catholics from across the country and around the world began trekking into the city, crossing bridges on foot and packing subway cars.

But there were fears that the extraordinary security — including airport-style bag searches, crowd-control cattle chutes and blocked-off streets — would scare many people away and depress the turnout.

Thomas Coorey, a dentist and father of four visiting Philadelphia from Sydney, called Francis "the most inspirational and amazing pope that could breathe life into this church of mine. And I'm so grateful to have a leader like him who's so humble and such a true servant of God."

It has been a common sentiment throughout the pope's American visit.

"It's the wave. It's the smile," said Tom Hambrose, 52, of Haddon Heights, New Jersey. "It's what he's articulating, that the church needs to step forward and needs to change its thinking about things."

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