Pope Benedict XVI met with victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy Friday on a visit to his native Germany and expressed regret for their suffering, the Vatican said.
"Moved and deeply shaken by the sufferings of the victims, the Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families," it said in a statement after the meeting.
He spoke with survivors of molestation by "priests and Church personnel" and later with carers offering them assistance.
The meeting had been keenly awaited during the 84-year-old pope's visit to his homeland, which was rocked last year by revelations of widespread abuse over several decades.
"He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the Church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people," the statement said.
"Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace."
He had told reporters Thursday on his flight to Germany that he sympathised with the thousands who had turned their backs on the Church over the paedophile scandals.
"I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims, would say 'this isn't my Church anymore'," the pope said in reference to widespread abuse by clergy.
The German Catholic Church was thrown into turmoil last year as hundreds came forward saying they were abused as minors between the 1950s and the 1980s amid allegations the crimes were swept under the carpet.
Over the past year, large-scale paedophilia scandals have shaken the Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the United States and the pope's native Germany.
During a visit to Britain this time last year, the pope met five survivors and expressed his "deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes."
In Britain, the pope also told the victims that the Church "is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring (the perpetrators) to justice."
The pope has previously met with victims while on visits to Malta, the United States and Australia. In Malta the victims said the pope wept as he met them.
Earlier Friday on the second leg of a four-day tour focused on bridging the gulf between religious faiths, the head of the Roman Catholic Church led prayers with Protestant leaders in a show of greater Christian unity.
Benedict said the different wings of the Church should "keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularisation -- everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task".
However the service, which Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Lutheran, also attended, disappointed some who said the pope had failed to match a conciliatory message with concrete action to heal the 500-year-old rift between the Churches.
The head of the Lutheran Church, Nikolaus Schneider, said he had conveyed the message to the pope that his flock was not satisfied with current relations with the Vatican.
"Our hearts are burning for more and that could be sensed today," he said.
The pope later celebrated a mass before 90,000 believers in a tiny village, which he praised for keeping the faith alive throughout the turmoil of the 20th century in Germany.
"During two godless dictatorships, which sought to deprive the people of their ancestral faith, the inhabitants of the Eichsfeld region were in no doubt that here in the shrine of Etzelsbach an open door and a place of inner peace was to be found," he said, referring to the Nazi and communist regimes.
Christians in Germany are neatly divided between Catholics and Lutherans, with a growing trend toward secularisation sparking crises in both Churches.
The next stop on the papal tour is the predominantly Catholic city of Freiburg, in the southwest, where he will address an estimated total of 260,000 people in his mother tongue before his visit ends Sunday.© ANP/AFP