British victims of sexual abuse by priests met Pope Benedict XVI yesterday and were told that the Catholic Church was doing all in its power "to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes".
In a statement, a church spokesman said the Pope was "moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people."
The meeting with five people, who were described as "a group of persons who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy", was at the Apostolic Nunciature, the residence of the pope's ambassador to the UK.
Earlier yesterday, Benedict said that he and the entire church felt shamed and humiliated by the behaviour of priests who had caused "immense suffering".
Using his strongest language so far when discussing the scandal, the Pope said: "I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes".
But Irish victims' representatives said his comments did not, in fact, add up to an apology. Colm O'Gorman, from victim support group One in Four, said: "I feel deep sorrow about the suffering I see on the news, but there's an enormous difference between an expression of sorrow and an apology and acknowledgement of responsibility.
"The Vatican chooses its words very carefully and that so-called apology could have been written by lawyers. It has 'no liability' all over it."
The Pope's remarks were made during his sermon at the most solemn service for Catholics of his four-day visit, in Westminster Cathedral.
He spoke of the sufferings of "all those individual Christians who daily unite their sacrifices to those of the Lord".
After mentioning the sick and handicapped, he added: "Here too I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers.
"Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes. . . I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people."