VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI broke his recent silence on the clerical abuse scandal Thursday, complaining that the church was under attack but saying that “we Christians” must repent for sins and recognize mistakes.
The main U.S. victims group immediately dismissed his comments, saying they are meaningless unless Benedict takes concrete steps to safeguard children from pedophile priests.
Benedict made the remarks during an off-the-cuff homily at a Mass inside the Vatican for members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
“I must say, we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘repent,’ which seemed too tough. But now under attack from the world, which has been telling us about our sins … we realize that it’s necessary to repent, in other words, recognize what is wrong in our lives,” Benedict said.
“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.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed that Benedict was referring to the scandal with his comments Thursday.
Victims of clerical abuse have long demanded that Benedict take more personal responsibility for clerical abuse, charging that the Vatican orchestrated a culture of cover-up and secrecy that allowed priests to rape and molest children unchecked for decades.
Those demands have intensified in recent weeks as the Vatican and Benedict himself have been accused of negligence in handling some cases in Europe and the United States.
“Factual disclosures are not ‘attacks’ and ‘penance’ protects no one,” said Mark Serrano, a spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the U.S. group.