Pope Francis greets a cardinal as he meets with church leaders at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)
Pope Francis greets a cardinal as he meets with church leaders at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

PHILADELPHIA (CNA/EWTN News) — Pope Francis this morning met with 5 survivors of sexual abuse during his visit to Philadelphia, telling bishops afterward that the evil acts can no longer remain in silence, and promised his personal vigilance in protecting minors.

“The stories of suffering and pain of minors who were sexually abused by priests have aggravated my heart,” Pope Francis told bishops participating in the World Meeting of Families Sept. 27 at Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

He said he is continuously overwhelmed by the shame of “people who were responsible for the tender care of these little ones and violated them.”

In the face of such heinous acts, “God cries,” he said, adding that “the criminal sins of the abuse of minors can’t be kept in silence any longer.”

“I promise, with the vigilance of the Church, to protect minors and I promise (that) all of those responsible will be held accountable.”

Survivors of abuse, he said, have become “true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy.” He said we must be grateful for each one of them and their families for “their immense value in shining the light of Christ over the evil of the abuse of minors.

“I say this now because I have just met with a group of people abused as children, who are helped and accompanied here in Philadelphia, with the special affection of Archbishop [Charles J.] Chaput. I thought it was the right thing to do, to tell you all where I was this morning.”

Pope Francis met with the abuse survivors for close to a half-hour between 8-9a.m. before meeting with bishops gathered in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.

According to a Sept. 27 communiqué from the Vatican, among the 5 survivors who participated were three women and two men, all of whom had been abused in childhood either by members of the clergy, family members or educators.

Each of the survivors was accompanied either by a family member or person of support.

Also present in the meeting were Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who is in charge of the Philadelphia archdiocesan Office for the Protection of Minors.

During the encounter Pope Francis listened to the testimonies of the survivors and spoke a few words to them all together before greeting each one individually.

He prayed with them and expressed his participation in their suffering, as well as his pain and shame, particularly in the cases where the injury was caused by members of the clergy or Church employees.

The pope then renewed his commitment and that of the Church to ensuring that all victims are heard and treated with justice, the guilty are punished and that the crimes of abuse are combated with an effective prevention in the Church and in society.

Francis thanked the victims for their essential role in restoring the truth and in beginning the journey of healing. The meeting closed with Pope Francis giving his blessing.