Pope Benedict XVI today expressed his ''shock and sadness'' at the sex abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church. Addressing the media on his flight to Edinburgh at the start of a four-day visit to Britain he described the actions of pedophile priests as a perversion and a sickness.
Pope Benedict says it is difficult to understand the perversion that has been revealed in the priestly ministry. He addressed the clerical sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in comments to journalists on the plane from Rome to Edinburgh at the start of his visit to Britain.
The pope said that that these revelations were for him a shock and cause for great sadness.
There is also sadness, the pope said, in that the authority of the church was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently quick in deciding to take the necessary measures.
The pope said for the Roman Catholic Church this must be a time of penance, humility and renewed sincerity. He added that a commitment for the victims of sexual abuse is the first priority.
Benedict also said the problem of finding the right punishment for those who are guilty must be addressed. He said these people must not be given access to young people, a way must be found to help them, to protect them against themselves.
He also spoke about prevention and the need to be careful in the choice of candidates for the priesthood.
This is the first state visit by a pontiff to Britain. Pope John Paul II carried out a pastoral visit in 1982 and was given a very warm welcome at the time. This time, there is strong anti-clerical and anti-Catholic sentiment, but Pope Benedict told journalists he is not concerned about this.
Benedict said Britain has its own history of anti-Catholicism, but also a history of tolerance. He said Western countries each in their own way and according to their own history have strong anti-clerical and anti-Catholic currents, but also a strong presence of faith.
He said he expected to be received warmly by Catholics and believers and with reciprocal respect and tolerance by anti-Catholics.