Pope Benedict XVI had a private meeting with a group of victims of abuse by Catholic priests and assured them the Church was doing its best to “bring to justice clergy and religious [people] accused of these egregious crimes”.

The Pope expressed his “deep sorrow and shame” at their suffering and prayed with them, a statement from the Holy See said.

The meeting, which took place on Saturday at the London home of the Vatican's Ambassador to Britain and lasted more than 30 minutes, came hours after the Pope offered a public apology describing the abuses as “unspeakable crime” and saying the scandal had brought “shame and humiliation” to the Church.

His remarks at a mass at Westminster Cathedral were said to be closest to acknowledging the Church's responsibility. A Vatican spokesman said the Pope was “moved” by what the victims — three from Yorkshire and one each from London and Scotland — had to say and assured them the Church was “continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people”. The victims, who were aged between 40 and 50, were not selected by the Vatican but sent by the local church, the spokesman added.

Campaigners welcomed the meeting and hoped it would lead to a “positive” outcome.

“Every time clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are discussed, it can be positive. We hope each of these brave individuals feels better as a result of the meeting, both now and years from now,” said the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap).

As the issue continued to dog his visit, the Pope said it was “deplorable” that so many young people had been abused by “priests and some religious people”.

“We have all become aware of the necessity to protect these young people and you constitute an important part of the Church's answer to the problem. There should be no complacency, we need to give credence to what has been done,” he told a group that works with young people in religious institutions.

Beatification

The Pope wound up his four-day visit with a mass in Birmingham and the beatification of 19th Century theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Cardinal Newman, originally an Anglican priest who exerted a profound influence on the Church of England as vicar of St. Mary's Oxford, converted to Catholicism in 1845.

He was made Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. He was also the first Rector of the Catholic University in Dublin.

Despite rain, thousands of people turned out to witness the beatification which brings the Cardinal, who will now be known as Blessed John Henry Newman, a step closer to sainthood.

A group of U.K.-based Catholics from Kerala travelled long distances to attend the ceremony.

“It is a moment that I will never forget…I'm blessed,” said a nurse who said that despite a late shift on Saturday she left home early in the morning to witness the “historic” occasion.

Describing it as an “auspicious day”, the Pope paid tribute to Cardinal Newman's “insights into the relationship between faith and reason”.

Six men arrested in connection with an alleged terrorist threat to the Pope were released without any charge.

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