SANTIAGO, Chile — Pope Francis met privately Tuesday with six victims of sexual abuse committed by priests in Chile, the papal spokesman has reported. The meeting had not been previously announced as a part of the Pope’s schedule.

“Today after lunch, the Holy Father met with a small group of victims of sexual abuse committed by priests at the apostolic nunciature in Santiago. The meeting was strictly private, and there was no one else present: only the Pope and the victims. In this way, they were able to share their sufferings with Pope Francis, who listened to them and prayed and cried with them,” reported Greg Burke, director of the Vatican Press Office.

At a press conference from Santiago, Burke told reporters that the meeting lasted half an hour.

The Pope’s visit to Chile has been marked by protests, including some from groups who allege a bishop appointed by the Pope covered up acts of sexual abuse committed by an influential Chilean priest.

Earlier Tuesday, during a speech to Chile’s civic authorities and diplomats, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for the cases of abuses against minors.

“I cannot help but express the pain and shame I feel at the irreparable damage caused to children by Church’s ministers. I join with my brothers in the episcopate, knowing that it is a matter of justice to ask for forgiveness and to support the victims with all our strength. At the same time, we must work so that it does not happen again,” he said at the event.

Later in the afternoon, the Holy Father conveyed solidarity with priests and religious who, he said, suffer insults and misunderstandings because of the abuses committed by some ministers of the Church: “I know that at times you have been insulted in the metro or walking on the street, and that by going around in clerical attire, in many places, you pay a heavy price. For this reason, I suggest that we ask God to grant us the clear-sightedness to call reality by its name, the strength to seek forgiveness and the ability to listen to what he tells us.” 

This article was originally published by CNA’s sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.