Greg Wood, Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI thanks World Youth Day volunteers at The Domain in Sydney, Australia, today prior to his departure from the country. The pope flew out of Australia after a nine-day visit during which he made a historic apology to victims of sexual abuse by priests. He celebrated a Mass on Sunday.

SYDNEY, Australia — Pope Benedict XVI met privately today with Australians who were sexually abused as children by priests, ending a pilgrimage to the country with a gesture of contrition and concern over a scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

The pontiff held prayers and spoke with four representatives of abuse victims — two men and two women — in the last hours of his nine-day visit to Australia for the church's global youth festival.

The victims did not speak publicly after the meeting. Support groups for other victims dismissed the gesture as a public-relations stunt.

The abuse scandal was a sour undertone to the trip for World Youth Day, which is supposed to be a celebration of faith that inspires a new generation.

On Saturday, Benedict delivered a forthright apology for the scandal, saying he was "deeply sorry" for the victims' suffering. But victims said this was not enough, and they demanded that Benedict do more to provide financial compensation and psychological help for them.

The Vatican did not give details of the conversations between the pope and the victims he met for about one hour early today "as an expression of his ongoing pastoral concern for those who have been abused by members of the church."

"He listened to their stories and offered them consolation," a Vatican statement said. "Assuring them of his spiritual closeness he promised to continue to pray for them, their families and all victims.

"Through this paternal gesture, the Holy Father wished to demonstrate again his deep concern for all victims of sexual abuse," it said.