Pope Francis has branded the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests an 'absolute monstrosity' and pledged action against the perpetrators as well as bishops and cardinals who have protected them.
The Pope made the comments in the foreword of a new book entitled Father, I Forgive You: Abused But Not Broken, written by a Swiss man, Daniel Pittet, who was first raped by a priest when he was eight years old.
Pope Francis, whose repeated promises of zero tolerance have been criticised by victims who say the Vatican needs to do much more, called sexual abuse 'an absolute monstrosity, a terrible sin that contradicts everything that the Church teaches'.
The Pope's foreword was published on Wednesday by the German daily newspaper Bild.
Francis said that the fate of abused children, especially those who had taken their own lives, weighed on his soul.
'We will counter those priests who betrayed their calling with the most strenuous measures. This also applies to the bishops and cardinals who protected these priests – as happened repeatedly in the past,' he wrote in the foreword.
Pope Francis also praised Pittet's courage in telling his story, adding that he was deeply moved by Pittet's ability to forgive his abuser 44 years after he was first molested. The Church has defrocked the abuser.
Pittet, now 58, wrote that his act of forgiveness had nothing to do with human justice or denial.
'Forgiveness does not heal the wounds or wipe away the misery...forgiving him has allowed me to burst the chains that bound me to him and prevented me from living,' Pittet wrote in the book, according to excerpts released by German publisher Herder.
During an audience with Pope Francis two years ago, Pittet told the Pope how he was abused for four years.
Pittet claims that the Pope listened to his story in tears before encouraging the former priest to tell the story more widely.
In February, Christian Today reported that Pope Francis had said abuse was like a 'diabolic sacrifice' in the preface of the book published previously, asking: 'How does a priest in the service of Christ and his church manage to provoke so much evil?'
Church sexual abuse was first exposed in the US, with reports of cases in Louisiana in 1984, and the issue exploded in 2002, when journalists in Boston found that bishops had systematically moved abusers to new posts instead of defrocking them, as shown in the recent film Spotlight.
But all around the world, thousands of cases have come to light as investigations have encouraged victims to go public. More than $2bn has so far been paid in compensation.
A 10-year inquiry into child abuse within the Church and church-run institutions in Ireland concluded in 2009 after documenting thousands of cases of beatings, rapes, neglect and exploitation.
In Australia, a similar inquiry which began in 2013 was also established following revelations of clergy being moved between parishes to cover up abuse. Thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse have testified to the inquiry, which was not limited to the Catholic church, with the Australian Cardinal George Pell set to give evidence in his home country.
Since the 2013 election of Pope Francis amid high hopes, his efforts and rhetoric against abuse have been strongly criticised by victims and campaigners, and a Vatican commission formed in 2014 to advise him on rooting it out has been hit by internal dissent.
Peter Saunders, a British victim of clergy abuse, took a leave of absence from the commission last year in protest over a lack of progress. Marie Collins, from Ireland and also a victim of abuse when she was a child, quit in frustration in March, citing a 'shameful' lack of cooperation within the Vatican.