SANTIAGO, Chile — Pope Francis today met with victims of sex abuse by priests in what Holy See spokesman Greg Burke described as a “strictly private” encounter following lunch in the Apostolic Nunciature in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

Burke would not be drawn into giving details about the group beyond saying that it was a small number of people who told the pope of their suffering. The meeting lasted a little over half an hour, and apart from the pope and the victims no one else was present.

The pope “listened to them, and prayed and cried with them,” Burke said.

Francis, this morning, issued a heartfelt apology for abuse at the presidential palace of La Moneda. Although he has done so before normally in meetings with clergy and bishops, Burke said it was important that he did so in a public, civic setting because sex abuse was “an evil affecting the whole of society.”

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The three outspoken victims of Father Fernando Karadima today criticized the presence in the papal Mass of the Bishop of Osorno, Juan Barros, whom they accuse of covering up Karadima’s abuse — charges he strenuously denies.

Asked to respond to those criticisms, the general secretary of the Chilean bishops’ conference, Bishop Fernando Ramos, told Crux that Barros was a bishop “appointed by the Holy Father” who had both “the right and the duty” to take part in the Mass.