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Pope Francis to meet with sexual abuse victims

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(CNN) — Pope Francis spoke out against sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Monday and said he plans to meet with victims in early June.

Stressing that such abuse constitutes a horrific crime, he told reporters aboard the papal plane that three bishops are under investigation.

It was not clear whether the bishops are under investigation for alleged abuse, or for purported involvement in some sort of cover-up.

A priest who abuses a child betrays the body of the Lord, the Pope said, according to pool reports. He called for zero tolerance.

The meeting at the Vatican will not be the first time a pope has met with sexual abuse victims, according to John L. Allen Jr., CNN’s senior Vatican analyst. However, it will mark the first time Pope Francis has done so.

“This is a clear indication that Francis is trying to get the message out that he ‘gets it’ about the need to confront the church’s abuse scandals,” Allen said.

Among the expected invitees to the meeting are abuse victims from Germany, England and Ireland, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the cardinal, said the time and date of the meeting have not been finalized.

“Cardinal O’Malley has been asked by the Holy Father to assist with the planning for a meeting with survivors of sexual abuse in the coming months,” said Donilon. “The cardinal looks forward to supporting this effort by Pope Francis in whatever manner will be most helpful.”

The pontiff spoke as he was returning to Rome from a three-day trip to the Middle East.

During that trip, the Pope extended an invitation to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to travel to the Vatican for peace talks.

In comments aboard the plane, he clarified the talks would not focus on finding a solution.

“It will be a meeting of prayer,” he said.

The Pope also appeared to open the door to the possibility he might resign one day, like his predecessor, if he no longer had the strength to carry on.

“I think that Pope Benedict XVI was not a unique case,” Francis told reporters. “I will do what God tells me to do.”

By Dana Ford

CNN’s Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

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