Pope Francis begged for forgiveness from survivors of sex abuse in the Catholic Church during a homily he delivered Monday in front of victims.

“Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” Francis said, according to a transcript from the Vatican. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.”

Francis expressed zero tolerance for sex abuse in the church, calling priests who abuse minors a “sacrilegious cult.”

“This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation,” he said. “It is something more than despicable actions. It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence. They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created. Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith. Today the heart of the church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life-long scars.”

The homily was delivered at a private mass with six victims of sex abuse. Francis later met with a larger group of survivors, according to the Associated Press. It was the first time Francis has met with abuse survivors.

Advocates of victims who were not at the meeting were skeptical that anything constructive would result from the gathering. Norbert Denef, a German spokesman for survivors, told the AP the meeting was “nothing more than a PR event.”

A Vatican spokesman shot down that characterization.

"It was clearly not a public relations event. It was a very profound, spiritual encounter with a pastor, a father, who is trying to understand deeply what happened," Father Francisco Lombardi told Reuters, adding that the meeting was “very intense and moving.”