In an unprecedented move, Pope Benedict has just met in Washington with five victims of clerical sexual abuse.
The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen says Pope Benedict met quietly with five victims of clerical sexual abuse this afternoon at the Vatican's embassy to the United States in Washington D.C.
No pope had previously met with victims of sexual abuse by priests, Allen says.
"That omission has been oft-cited by critics of the Church's response to the crisis as an indication that Rome and the papacy are out of touch with American realities, or in denial about the magnitude of the problem," Allen says.
The five victims who met with Pope Benedict are from the Boston area, and sources told NCR that Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston played a role in arranging their encounter with Pope Benedict.
Some of the victims plan to make a public statement later this afternoon, NCR believes.
The Vatican has issued a statement saying that the meeting took place, and one of the victims who took part, confirmed the meeting for NCR shortly after it concluded.
Earlier en route to the US, Pope Benedict had told reporters that "we are deeply ashamed (about the clerical sexual abuse scandal), and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future."
Yesterday the pope added: "I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors."
"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse," the pope said.
He went on to ask all American Catholics to "do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt".
SOURCEPope Benedict meets with victims of clerical sexual abuse (National Catholic Reporter, 18/4/08)