Pope Francis held a private meeting with survivors during his visit to Chile

Pope Francis has met in private with survivors of sexual abuse by Chilean clergy, the Vatican has said.

Spokesman Greg Burke said the Pope met with “a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests” at the apostolic nunciature in Santiago, Chile.

“The meeting took place in a strictly private way, and no one else was present: only the Pope and the victims,” Burke told journalists that evening.

The private setting, he added, allowed the group to speak freely with the Pope and recount their sufferings.

Pope Francis “listened, prayed and cried with them,” Burke said.

[Pope Francis asks forgiveness from victims of clerical sex abuse]

Also present at the press conference was Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos Perez of Santiago, secretary-general of the Chilean bishops’ conference.

Bishop Ramos addressed criticism regarding the presence of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno at several papal events, including the Pope’s meetings with the country’s clergy as well as the bishops of Chile.

Bishop Barros’ appointment as bishop by the Pope in 2015 drew outrage and protests due to his connection to Fr Fernando Karadima, his former mentor. Fr Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

“Bishop Barros is bishop of Osorno and was named by the Pope. All bishops have the right and responsibility to participate at the events. That was the only reason why he was present,” Bishop Ramos said.

Earlier in the day, the Pope asked forgiveness from the victims of sexual abuse during an address to government authorities and members of Chile’s diplomatic corps, expressing his “pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church.”

Burke said it was significant the pope addressed the issue of clergy sex abuse during his meeting with government authorities “because normally he speaks about it when meeting with bishops or priests.”

“The fact that he spoke there means that it is an evil not only for the Church but for society,” Burke said.