Pope sees sex scandal as greatest threat to Catholic Church
LISBON, Portugal – Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday blamed the church's own sins for the clerical abuse scandal — not a campaign mounted by outsiders — and called for profound purification to end what he called the "greatest persecution" the church has endured.
His strong comments placed the blame for the crisis squarely on the sins of pedophile priests, repudiating the Vatican's initial response to the scandal, in which it blamed the media as well as pro-choice and pro-gay marriage advocates for mounting a campaign against the church and the pope.
Speaking en route to Portugal, Benedict said the Catholic church had always suffered from problems of its own making but that "today we see it in a truly terrifying way."
"The greatest persecution of the church doesn't come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church," the pontiff said. "The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also justice."
Benedict was responding to journalists' questions, submitted in advance, aboard the papal plane as he flew to Portugal. His four-day visit will take him from Lisbon to the famed Fatima shrine to Portugal's second city, Porto.
It is not known whether Benedict would make further remarks about the scandal during the trip, but there have been no reported cases of sex abuse in Portugal, unlike in Malta, where Benedict met with abuse victims on a trip there last month.
Despite the Vatican's initial, defensive response to hundreds of clerical abuse reports in Europe, Benedict has called for penance and promised that the church would take action to protect children and make abusive priests face justice.