Pope Francis sought forgiveness for the "evil" of priests who sexually abused children, addressing head-on an issue Friday that has dogged the Catholic Church for two decades.
"I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children," he said on Vatican Radio.
The pontiff added: "The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children."
Critics have long accused the Church of trying to cover up the issue, thus putting young people at risk of sexual abuse for years.
The formation of a group of experts was first announced in December, and the pope last month named the first eight members — four female and four male — from eight different countries.
The commission would look at taking criminal action against offenders, educating people about the exploitation of children, developing best practices to better screen priests, and defining the civil and clerical duties within the Church, Lombardi said.
Among those named to the group was Marie Collins, who was a victim of sexual abuse in Ireland in the 1960s and who has campaigned actively for the protection of children and for justice for victims of clerical pedophilia.
Reuters contributed to this report.