Church must do penance for abuse, says Pope
'The pain of repentance is a grace because it is renewal and the work of divine mercy'
The Pope has said the Catholic Church needs to do "penance" for its sins in a direct reference to the global paedophile priest scandal.
The pontiff's words -- the nearest he has come to making a worldwide apology -- were spoken in a sermon during Mass at the Vatican.
"Now, under the attacks of the world which talk to us about our sins, let us see that we can do penance. I have to say that we Christians, even lately, have often avoided the word 'penance', that seemed to us too hard," said the Pope, who turns 83 today.
"Open ourselves to forgiveness. . . and let ourselves be transformed. The pain of repentance, which is a purification and transformation, is a grace because it is renewal and the work of divine mercy," he said.
It was his first direct mention of the crisis since he issued an Easter letter to the Irish church last month, in which he expressed his "shame and remorse" for decades of "sinful and criminal acts" by Irish clergy.
The letter failed to mention any other countries in which cases of clerical sex abuse have emerged recently, including the Pope's native Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway and Italy.
Pope Benedict XVI has been personally accused of trying to protect priests facing child sex abuse allegations.
The call for penance was in contrast to the approach of some senior cardinals who in recent days have tried to deflect criticism of the Vatican by blaming the crisis on what they say is a hostile campaign by international media.
Vatican officials have accused the press of trying to smear the Pope over his alleged failure to deal with cases of abuse during his time as Archbishop of Munich in the 1980s and then as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department which is responsible for providing discipline for moral or theological deviance by clergy.
Victims of clerical abuse have long demanded the Pope take more personal responsibility for clerical abuse, claiming that the Vatican mandated a culture of cover-up and secrecy that allowed priests to abuse children for decades unchecked.
Earlier in the week the Vatican posted on its website what it claimed had been a long-standing church policy telling bishops that they should report abuse crimes to police, where civil laws require it.
But critics have said the guidelines were merely a deceptive attempt to rewrite history, designed to shield the Vatican from blame by shifting responsibility of dealing with abusive priests onto bishops.
The Rev Thomas P Doyle, a canon lawyer who has been the main expert witness for victims in hundreds of lawsuits, called the guidelines a "failed attempt at damage control through revision of history".
"The newly created canonical tradition of referral to civil authorities is the result of one thing: public outrage, the exposure from the media and the pressure for accountability in civil courts." (© Daily Telegraph, London)