The Pope has expressed his "shock” and "great sadness" due to sexual abuses by members of clergy. Victims of abuse must be given priority as the Church takes on pedophilia, he said, and perpetrators must be "excluded" from access to children.
The Holy Father addressed abuse in the Church during an in-flight press conference as he traveled from Rome to Edinburgh, Scotland on Thursday morning. Speaking to about 70 reporters, writers and photographers, the Pope answered several questions.
Included among them was one reporter's question about how trust in the Church might be reestablished after a recent poll was released showing that U.K. faithful are struggling to view the Church in a positive light.
"First of all," said the Pope, "I must say that these revelations were a shock for me, they are a great sadness. It's difficult to understand how these perversions of the priestly ministry were possible."
He said that it is "hard to understand" how someone can "fall into this perversion" after years of priestly preparation and despite having agreed to be Christ's "voice, His mouth, His hand" at his ordination.
It is, he repeated, a "great sadness."
Pope Benedict also expressed "sadness" at the lack of action by some Church authorities who were "not sufficiently vigilant or sufficiently fast (or) decisive enough to take the necessary measures."
It is for these reasons that the Church is now observing a moment of peace, humility and renewed sincerity, he explained, referring to his words from the Letter to Irish Catholics released earlier this year to guide the faithful after widespread abuses were confirmed in the country.
Now, he insisted, is "a time of penance, a time of humility, to renew and relearn in absolute sincerity."
The victims of the abuses, he added with urgency, must be aided to help overcome this "trauma" and find their lives and their trust in God's message again. "Healing and commitment ... is the first priority, with psychological and spiritual help," he said.
The Pope also explained that measures must be taken to keep perpretators, who he said have "a sickness," away from children and also to "protect them from themselves." To ensure protection of children, he added, better formation and prevention measures must be implemented and upheld.
Concluding his answer to the question, he applauded the bishops of the U.K. for their cooperation with the Holy See and civil entities in their fight against abuse, saying that he is "very grateful" to them for their commitment to protecting young people.