Pope Francis
Pope FrancisReuters

Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the priests found guilty of sex abuse in a strong address on an issue that has haunted the Roman 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.

He 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."

Francis spoke to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, a French Catholic network of organisations that aim to protect children's rights.

In December, Pope Francis set up a Vatican taskforce to help tackle sex abuse and paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

The pontiff has assembled a panel of experts who will study child protection measures, a spokesman for the Holy See said.

Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, announced formation of the taskforce after meeting the Pope and eight cardinal advisers responsible for Vatican reforms.

"The Holy Father has decided to establish a specific commission for the protection of minors, with the aim of advising Pope Francis on the Holy See's commitment to the protection of children and in pastoral care for victims of abuse," said O'Malley.

Boston was at the epicentre of a sex abuse scandal that erupted in the US in 2002.

The move followed accusations that the Vatican had dodged a UN request for information on abuse allegations.

The Holy See refused to provide the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is monitoring the Vatican's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with detailed information on a series of sexual abuse cases dating back to 1995.