VATICAN CITY (AP) " Pope Benedict XVI begged forgiveness Friday from clerical abuse victims for the sins of priests and promised to "do everything possible" to ensure that prelates don't rape or molest children ever again.
Benedict's pledge was similar to comments he has made in the past. But it was uttered in the highly symbolic setting of a Mass in St. Peter's Square concelebrated by 15,000 white-robed priests, all marking the end of the Vatican's Year of the Priest " a year marred by revelations of hundreds of new cases of clerical abuse, cover-ups in several nations and Vatican inaction to root out pedophiles.
In his homily, Benedict lamented that during what should have been a year of joy for the priesthood the "sins of priests came to light " particularly the abuse of the little ones."
"We too 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.
He said in admitting men into the priesthood and in forming them as clergymen "we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life's dangers."
His comments were similar to those reported by the Vatican during his private meeting with abuse victims in Malta in April, during which the pontiff had tears in his eyes as he heard the stories of men molested by priests as children.
Benedict also made similar comments last month en route to Portugal, in which he acknowledged that the "sins from within the church" were responsible for the scandal, not the media or some outside anti-Catholic lobby.
As such, Friday's comments were a public admission of the sins of priests, a request for forgiveness from their victims and God, and pledge to take action " all delivered before priests who came to Rome from around the world to support the pontiff and the priesthood itself amid the scandal.
Victims groups who had been hoping for a mea cupla and clear-cut action plan to protect children weren't satisfied.
"A promise is nominally more helpful than an apology. But promises are usually easy to make, hard to keep and broken often if there's no oversight or penalties," said Barbara Blaine, president of the U.S. victims group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
She said the crux of the problem remained the "nearly limitless power" of bishops and a church structure and culture that allows them to be "virtually answerable to no one." She said that had allowed abusive priests to remain in the ministry for decades.
Benedict's own legacy has been tarnished by the scandal, since he was archbishop of Munich in the 1980s when he approved therapy for a suspected pedophile who was allowed to resume pastoral duties while being treated. The priest, the Rev. Peter Hullermann, later was handed a suspended sentence for molesting a boy.
In addition, Benedict's legacy at the Vatican office that dealt with sex abuse has come under scrutiny.
Benedict said the scandal had shown the need for a purification of the church.
"Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events," he said. "But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: We grew in gratitude for God's gift."
A Spanish priest who attended Friday's Mass, the Rev. Davide Torrijus, concurred.
"We have all suffered during the year of the priests" because of the scandal, he said. "It was good for the pope to show also the positive aspects " gratitude for the gift."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.