VATICAN CITY — Addressing the clerical abuse scandal from the heart of the Roman Catholic Church during a Mass celebrated by 15,000 priests from around the world, Pope Benedict XVI begged for forgiveness Friday from victims and promised to "do everything possible" to protect children.
Benedict's pledge failed to satisfy victims groups, who said promises are useless without a clear-cut action plan to root out pedophile priests, expose the bishops who protected them and change the Vatican policies and culture that allowed abuse to continue.
Benedict's comments came during a Mass at St. Peter's Square marking the Vatican's Year of the Priest — a year marred by revelations of hundreds of new cases of clerical abuse in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, as well as cover-ups by bishops and evidence of long-standing Vatican inaction.
It was the first time Benedict had spoken of the crisis from St. Peter's Basilica, the center of the church.
Benedict implied that the devil was behind the timing of the scandal, saying the Year of the Priest was supposed to have been a year of celebration of the priesthood and encouragement for new vocations.
"It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the 'enemy.' He would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven from the world," Benedict said in his homily, to applause from the gathered priests.
"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 little ones," he said.
"We, too, 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.
Victims groups weren't satisfied.
"A promise is nominally more helpful than an apology. But promises are usually easy to make, hard to keep and broken often if there's no oversight or penalties," said Barbara Blaine, president of the U.S. victims group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Another group, BishopAccountability.org, urged the pontiff to tell his bishops to stop opposing legislation to extend statutes of limitations so that victims can seek justice from abusers. The group also wants information about known abusers posted on diocesan websites, and it wants the Vatican office that handles abuse cases to do the same.
"Once again, the pope focused only on wayward priests, and he once again minimized the sodomizing and abuse of helpless children by calling it a 'sin,' " the group said in a statement.