Rome - Pope Francis has defended the Catholic Church's record on tackling the sexual abuse of children by priests, saying "no-one else has done more" to root out paedophilia.
"The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No-one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked," he said in an interview with Il Corriere Della Sera published on Wednesday.
Last month, the United Nations denounced the Vatican for failing to stamp out child abuse and allowing systematic cover-ups, calling on the Church to remove clergy suspected of raping or molesting children.
It accused the Vatican of systematically placing the "preservation of the reputation of the Church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims" - an accusation which was heatedly rebuffed.
The Argentine pontiff, who will celebrate the one-year anniversary of his election on March 13, said in the interview that the abuse cases "are terrible because they leave very deep wounds”.
"The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighbourhood environments," he said.
Francis praised his predecessor Benedict XVI - the first pope to apologise to abuse victims - saying he had been "very courageous and opened up a path" to changing the Church's attitude towards predatory priests.
Francis himself has said Catholics should feel "shame" for abuse. In December, he created a commission to investigate sex crimes, enforce prevention and care for victims. - AFP