VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged forgiveness for the "abuse of the little ones" by paedophile priests and pledged to "do everything possible" to stop the scourge.
"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 at a mass in St Peter's Square marking the end of the Roman Catholic Church's Year for Priests.
"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 some 15,000 white-clad priests in the sun-drenched square.
It was the pope's clearest apology to date over the paedophile priest scandals coupled with allegations of high-level cover-ups that have rocked Catholic churches in Europe and the United States since late last year.
With paedophilia, "the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God's concern for our good, turns into its very opposite," lamented the 83-year-old pope, wearing white and gold vestments.
Some 15,000 people from around the world co-celebrated the mass with the pontiff.
"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," Benedict vowed. --AFP