Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged for forgiveness for the paedophile priest scandals rocking the Roman Catholic in his clearest apology yet for the scourge.
At a mass with some 15,000 priests marking the end of the Roman Catholic Church`s Year for Priests, the pontiff pledged to "do everything possible" to stop the cases.
"And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light, particularly the abuse of the little ones," Benedict said in a sun-drenched St Peter`s Square.
"We ... insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again," he said before the white-clad priests from around the world.
"In admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey," vowed the 83-year-old Benedict.
The head of a US-based support group for victims of predator priests dismissed what she described as "vague one-sentence pledges" by the pope, saying "substantive structural and cultural change alters behaviour."
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said in a statement: "Any Church promises of action on abuse and cover-up are inherently problematic because of the Church`s ancient, unhealthy monarchical structure."
She said the pope cannot be expected to supervise some 5,000 bishops. "In practice, each bishop is the lord of his own kingdom, answerable to virtually no one."
Blaine added: "The real solution to the scandal must therefore involve reducing the power of bishops and increasing the power of secular authorities to safeguard children."
SNAP urges "four steps (that) actually safeguard kids: exposing child predators, punishing complicit wrong-doers, launching independent investigations and reforming secular laws," she said.
Paedophile priest scandals and allegations of high-level cover-ups have surged again since last year and rocked the Catholic Church in Europe and the United States.
To mark the end of the Year for Priests, the Italian Church on Tuesday thanked clergy for their dedication while under pressure from "sweeping accusations" of child sex abuse that "have caused bitterness and pain and cast suspicions on everyone."
The pope himself has faced allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican`s chief morals enforcer, he helped to protect predator priests.
Late last year, Ireland was rocked by two successive reports revealing widespread abuse mainly of boys by priests going back decades, coupled with the Church hierarchy`s complicity in covering it up.
The pope issued a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics in March expressing shame and remorse for the revelations of abuse committed by those entrusted with the care of young people in Ireland, in cases stretching back decades.
The scandals snowballed with revelations in the pope`s native Germany, Belgium, Austria, United States, Brazil and other countries.
The pope has condemned paedophile priests several times, and met with abuse victims in Australia, the United States and Malta.