At the start of a four-day visit to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI blamed the church's clerical abuse scandal on its own sins - not a campaign mounted by outsiders. The pope called for profound purification to end what he described as the "greatest persecution" the church has endured.
Pope Benedict spoke to reporters on the plane from Rome to Portugal in reply to a question about the clerical sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church.
The pope said attacks against the pope and the church not only come from outside. He said the biggest persecution of the church does not come from enemies outside, but it is born out of the sins of the church.
He added that the church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness and also justice.
In recent weeks, a number of Vatican officials have accused the media, gays or progressives of waging a smear campaign against the Catholic Church. The Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, even dismissed reports of a cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests as "petty gossip".
It is unclear whether Pope Benedict will make further remarks about the scandal during the trip, but there have been no reported cases of sex abuse by priests in Portugal, unlike in Malta, where Benedict met with abuse victims on a trip there last month.
Upon his arrival at Lisbon airport, Pope Benedict sharply criticized Portugal's abortion law, saying public officials must give "essential consideration" to issues that affect human life.
He said 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.
Pope Benedict's four-day visit to Portugal will take him from Lisbon to the famed Fatima shrine, where the Madonna is said to have appeared to three shepherd children six times in 1917. The pope will also visit the country's second city, Porto before returning to the Vatican on May 14.