The Pope spent part of his final day in America with victims of child sexual abuse
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Credit: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Pope Francis spent part of his final day in Philadelphia meeting with past victims of child sexual abuse, promising retribution against those culpable for the Catholic church scandal that reached a fever pitch in the early 2000s.

The pope expressed his warning to American bishops accused of covering up for sexually abusive priests at the start of a 30-minute meeting at the San Carlo Borromeo seminary on Sunday, according to Head Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

In the half hour meeting, the pontiff talked to and prayed with the three women and two men, who were all abused as minors. The families of the victims participated in the private meeting with the pontiff.

Lombardi specified that the victims were abused by “the clergy or by members of their families or their teachers.”

The pontiff told the victims they were “true heralds of mercy” and praised them for helping bring to light the devastating scandal.

He urged that sex abuse in the church must no longer be hidden, and vowed to ensure that “all those responsible are held accountable.”

“I constantly have in mind the people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender children, that violated that trust and caused them great pain,” the pope said. “I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.”

The pontiff added: “God weeps for the sexual abuse of children. These cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and all responsible will be held accountable. Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy, humbly. We owe each of them our gratitude for their great value as they have had to suffer this terrible abuse sexual abuse of minors.”

Francis arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, and will fly back to Rome on Sunday evening. His visit to the City of Brotherly Love, which ended the whirlwind six-day U.S. tour, included an appearance at the Festival of Families, a free public event hosted by the World Meeting of Families, a Catholic conference, at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday night.

Most of his time in America, which included stops in both New York City and, before that, Washington D.C., has been marked by candid talks on climate change and social problems.