If anybody knows the healing power of public mea culpas, it's Oprah Winfrey.
The daytime queen profusely apologized to the parents of students at her all-girls school in South Africa for a sex-abuse scandal that resulted in the dismissal of one of its dormitory matrons.
"I've disappointed you. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," a tearful Winfrey told angry families who showed up for an emergency meeting at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, according to South Africa's news.24.com, a leading news site.
Allegations surfaced two weeks ago that a "dorm parent" had been accused of fondling a girl and physically and verbally abusing several others, including grabbing them about the neck, beating them and hurling them against a wall.
The talk-show host made her second visit to the school, located in the town of Henley-on-Klip, just south of Johannesburg, in as many weeks. She reportedly took full responsibility at the gathering and begged parents to forgive her for the staff member's behavior.
The accusations came to light after one of the pupils ran away, purportedly because she couldn't stand the alleged abuse any longer.
Winfrey suspended the matron and at least one other staffer. The school's principal, who the girls complained had failed to take action, was placed on paid administrative leave as detectives and Child Protection Services probe the reputed misconduct.
"I trusted her," Winfrey told the families regarding the principal. "When I appointed her, I thought she was passionate about the children of Africa. But I've been disappointed."
According to the Website, a father of one of the students tried to allay Winfrey's guilt.
"We don't blame you," he was quoted as saying. "You have more passion for the school and its existence than anyone else in this country, including us parents."
Winfrey, described as visibly distressed, promised the parents that those found to have committed wrongdoing would be punished.
Winfrey also gave the students, whom she referred to as her "daughters," her personal telephone number and email address in the U.S. so they could get in touch with her at any time.
The $46 million Leadership Academy, which aims to provide impoverished South African girls with a high quality education, opened its doors in January to much fanfare. On hand to help Winfrey celebrate the occasion were special guests like former South African President Nelson Mandela, Spike Lee, Sidney Poitier, Chris Tucker, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige.
The school promises a "safe and structured" environment of learning and sports a 28-building campus that includes classrooms, state-of-the-art computer and science labs, a theater, wellness center, yoga center and beauty salon. Winfrey personally interviewed all applicants to the school.