Pope Benedict: Catholic Church is entirely responsible for abuse crisis

Fatima parish church

Fatima parish church

Pope Benedict said today that the Catholic church was entirely responsible for the recent child abuse scandal that has spread across Europe. Speaking at the start of  his visit to Portugal,  Pope Benedict said the church's greatest enemy was "sins from within", not the campaigners who have exposed its culture of laxity and secrecy.

"The greatest persecution of the church doesn't come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church," he said.  "The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also justice."

The statement has been seen as a sign that the Holy Father wants to stop church officials from trying to blame the scandal on the media and anti-Catholic groups outside the Church.

Tens of thousands lined the streets of Lisbon today as the Pope arrived in the city. There was also a protest against the Vatican's refusal to sanction the use of condoms as a way of fighting HIV and Aids.

About 90% of the population in Portugal say they are Catholic, but many openly ignore Church teaching on certain issues.  The country's  centre-left Socialist government is due shortly to pass a bill that will permit civil partnerships for gay couples. It has already introduced a law allowing a judge to grant a divorce even if one spouse is against it. The government legalised abortion there in 2007. In his arrival speech,  Pope Benedict criticised that law, saying  the government must give "essential consideration" to issues that affect human life. "The point at issue is not an ethical confrontation between a secular and religious system, so much as a question about the meaning that we give to our freedom," he said.

On Thursday, 13 May,  Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima for the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three children in 1917.  More than half a million people are expected to attend. Protesters have promised to stay away on the day, as Fatima is the most-loved shrine in the country.

For more information on Fatima see: www.santuario-fatima.pt/portal/index.php?lang=EN

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