The Vatican expressed "shame and sorrow" on Thursday about a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report that said clergy raped and molested children in six dioceses.
The Holy See decried the abuse as "criminally and morally reprehensible."
In uncharacteristically strong language for the Vatican even in matters such as the long-running abuse scandals staining the U.S. church, spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement that victims should know "the pope is on their side."
Pope Francis wasn't quoted in the statement, and there was no mention of demands in the United States among some Catholics for the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C.
The grand jury report made public this week accused the cardinal of helping to protect some molester priests when he was bishop of Pittsburgh.
Burke described the abuse in the report as "betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith.”
“The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur," he said.
Francis had recently accepted the resignation from cardinal's rank of former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who has been accused of sexual abuse. It was the first time a prelate had lost his cardinal's rank in a sexual abuse scandal, and Francis was stepping up his crackdown to include some of the highest-ranking churchmen.
Burke said Francis "understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers, and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the church and in all of society."
The grand jury report documented how pedophile priests were often protected by church hierarchy or moved to other postings without congregants being told of the priests' sexual predatory history.