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Pope Francis to meet with sex abuse victims for first time

VATICAN CITY--Pope Francis will meet victims of pedophile priests for the first time on Monday, as a Vatican commission moves to address the problem of clerical sex abuse in developing countries.

Six victims from Britain, Germany and Ireland will talk with the head of the Roman Catholic Church at his private residence near Saint Peter's Basilica in a gesture aimed at expressing his closeness to the tens of thousands of people abused by priests globally.

The private meeting — the first with abuse victims since Francis was elected in February last year — is hotly awaited by victim support groups who have criticized the Argentinian for not acting earlier.

Francis has been slow to speak out on an issue which has hugely damaged the Catholic Church for over a decade, but in May he branded the sexual abuse of children by priests a crime comparable to a “satanic Mass” and promised “zero tolerance.”

Monday's encounter, which will follow a mass in the pope's private chapel, will come a day after a meeting of the commission set up by Francis to advise him on the sexual abuse crisis and draw up protocols for the pope to consider.

Composed of experts from eight countries, the body includes campaigner Marie Collins — who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland — as well as British and French psychiatrists, a German psychologist and an Italian cannon law professor.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston — where the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the United States in 2002 — is also a member.

The meeting is expected to open up the commission to experts from the Southern Hemisphere and the developing world, where pedophilia is largely a taboo subject and cases of abuse are much less likely to be reported.

'Like a satanic mass'

In May, the U.N. Committee Against Torture said the Church had major failings in dealing with abuse cases, voicing concerns about a cover-up culture and calling for alleged pedophiles to be suspended immediately pending investigation.

The pope gave his strongest response yet, saying “sexual abuse is such an ugly crime ... it is like a satanic mass,” and calling for “zero tolerance” for anyone in the Church who abused children, including bishops.

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