Pope Francis has announced that he is to meet victims of sexual abuse in the Vatican next month for the first time since his election to papacy last year.
Speaking aboard the papal plane on his return trip from the Middle East, the much-loved Pope has condemned sexual abuse, which the Catholic Church has been forced to address following an onslaught of allegations levelled at clergy.
Reports suggest that some bishops have covered up or turned a blind eye to crimes committed within their jurisdiction, while accusations that members of the Church have themselves committed abuse have been made on a global scale.
Between 1984 and 2009, more than 3,000 lawsuits were filed against Catholic clergy in the US, and the Church has reportedly paid out over $3billion in settlements to victims.
Italian officials admitted in 2010 that approximately 100 reports against paedophile priests had been made over a period of 10 years, while the John Jay report of 2009 found that sexual abuse was "endemic" in Catholic-boys' institutions for much of the 20th century.
In January of this year, a representative of the Church was thus forced to stand before the UN Committee of the Convention of the Rights of the Child to give account of the measures being taken by the Vatican to tackle the issue.
Furthermore, Francis gave what many have called his strongest statement yet on the scandal last month, when he declared sexual abuse to be "evil".
Speaking to members of BICE (International Catholic Child Bureau) in the Vatican, the Pontiff shared his deep sorrow and anger at the actions of clergy who have been implicated in the allegations.
"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," he declared.
"The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed.
"On the contrary, we have to be even stronger," he promised.
The Pope has now revealed that three bishops are currently under investigation, though it is as yet unclear whether they have been accused of abuse themselves, or of covering up another's crime.
In his latest statement, he has now also announced that he will welcome a group of 8 sex abuse victims in an audience at the Vatican in June.
"Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime ... because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord," he told reporters aboard his official plane on Monday.
He went on to compare abuse to devil worship; denouncing it as like "a satanic Mass" and adding that "we must go ahead with zero tolerance".
He also said "there will be no daddy's boys," suggesting that no clergy, no matter how high up in the Church, would be exempt from punishment should they be found guilty.
David Greenwood, Chairman of Stop Church Child Abuse, however, says this offering from the Pope is insufficient.
"I cannot understand why any survivor of clergy sex abuse would want to meet [him]," he told Christian Today. "My view is that the Pope should be visiting them in their own homes and begging their forgiveness.
"Successive Pope have made and promoted rules for Bishops and priests which have shielded clergy from investigation by the police throughout the world. The Church's lamentable behaviour has been criticised by survivors, lawyers and now two United Nations committees (the committee for the rights of the child and the committee against torture) yet Pope Francis and other senior clerics continue to defend the church."
He added: "The Pope now has an opportunity to put his organisation's house in order by acknowledging the UN's criticisms and implementing their recommendations but sadly I very much doubt he or his officials are serious about promoting child protection".
However, CCPAS, an independent Christian safeguarding charity, has welcomed the Pope's announcement.
"CCPAS welcomes the Pope's decision to meet with eight victims of child sex abuse," said chief executive Simon Bass. "We also welcome his public declaration that he will show zero tolerance for anyone in the Roman Catholic Church who abuses children.
"The moves are no doubt timely following the criticism levelled at the Vatican for failing to protect children by the UN panel recently. But we would, nevertheless, urge as many interested parties as possible to contribute to Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley's new Vatican commission, which is investigating sex crimes committed by priests and is seeking the best ways to care for victims."
The meeting in Rome next month will be attended by Cardinal O'Malley.