Vatican City (dpa) - Catholic Church hierarchies shielded the crimes of paedophile priests, Pope Francis admitted Monday, hours after meeting people who were abused in their youth by members of the clergy.
Speaking to reporters on the return flight from Philadelphia to Rome, at the end of his pilgrimage to Cuba and the United States, Francis said abusing children is "almost a sacrilege" and a betrayal of the call of God for a priest.
"And those who have covered up these things are also guilty. Even some bishops have covered up: it is a very bad thing," the pontiff stressed.
On Sunday, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics spent about 30 minutes with three women and two men who were sexually abused by clergy members.
"I promise that all those responsible for the sexual abuse of children will be punished," Francis later told a gathering of bishops.