Pope Francis begged forgiveness Monday in his first meeting with Catholics sexually abused by members of the clergy and went further than any of his predecessors by vowing to hold bishops accountable for their handling of pedophile priests.

Abuse victims and their advocates have long demanded that higher-ups be made to answer for the decades-long cover-ups of rape and molestation of youngsters in a scandal that has rocked the church and dismayed its worldwide flock of 1.2 billion.

The pope celebrated a private Mass with six victims — two each from Ireland, Britain and Germany — at his Vatican residence, and spent the rest of the morning listening to their accounts, one on one.

But in speaking of accountability, he made no specific mention of what countless victims and their families around the globe have waited years to hear: whether bishops and other prelates who shuffled child-molesting priests from parish to parish or didn't inform police and prosecutors would be fired or demoted.

"All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable," Francis said, delivering his homily in his native Spanish. The survivors were allowed to bring a relative or friend and an interpreter.

Read more at the Associated Press