Catholic bishops in England and Wales have offered a full apology and said there were "no excuses" for the child abuse scandals that have rocked the church.
A joint statement presented by the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols was issued on behalf of the bishops at the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and will go out to all parishes at the end of a plenary meeting in Leeds.
The statement described the crimes carried out by some priests and religious figures as a "profound scandal" and said: "They bring deep shame to the whole church. But shame is not enough. The abuse of children is a grievous sin against God.
"Therefore we focus not on shame but on our sorrow for these sins.
"They are the personal sins of only a very few. But we are bound together in the Body of Christ and, therefore, their sins touch us all.
"We express our heartfelt apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed. We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God for these terrible deeds done in our midst. There can be no excuses."
The statement said the church would work with safeguarding commissions within its dioceses to ensure relevant steps were taken to protect against any further abuse and atone for those who were already victims.
"In our dioceses we will continue to make every effort, working with our safeguarding commissions, to identify any further steps we can take," the statement said, "especially concerning the care of those who have suffered abuse, including anyone yet to come forward with their account of their painful and wounded past.
"We are committed to continuing the work of safeguarding, and are determined to maintain openness and transparency, in close co-operation with the statutory authorities in our countries."
The statement also invited Catholics in England and Wales to hold special days of prayer on the four Fridays of next month for all those involved with the scandal, and added: "We commit ourselves afresh to the service of children, young people and the vulnerable in our communities. We have faith and hope in the future."