Pope Francis asked those who had been abused by Catholic priests for forgiveness on Friday, while promising the Catholic church will continue to fight to protect children.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said during a speech at the Vatican, according to Vatican Radio.
During Pope Francis’ speech before members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, a Catholic non-governmental organization, he said the church will “not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem.” Victim advocacy groups have been critical of the church’s “lack of attention” to the problem and have urged the Pope to sanction those who hid abuses.
The Pope, who was TIME’s Person of the Year in 2013, said Friday that sanctions are among the things the church will not shy away from. “You cannot interfere with children,” he said.