Pope Benedict acknowledged on Wednesday that "unjustifiable crimes" were committed during the colonization of the Americas. The pontiff, who has been criticized by Indian groups, recently returned from his first visit to Brazil. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Pope Benedict on Wednesday said Christians committed injustices during the colonization of Latin America. Addressing pilgrims gathered for his weekly general audience at the Vatican, the pope said the memories of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied evangelization of the Latin American continent.

Pope Benedict says "It is not possible, indeed, to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by colonizers on the indigenous populations, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled on."

The pontiff said he was making a "dutiful mention of such unjustifiable crimes," and he said some missionaries and theologians in the past had condemned those crimes. He added that the crimes should not detract from the accomplishments of Christianity in Latin America.

The pope recently returned from his first visit to Latin America, which took him to Brazil. In a speech to bishops at the end of his trip, he said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

He said indigenous peoples welcomed the arrival of European priests during the conquest and that they were "silently longing" for Christianity. He also said embracing Christianity purified them.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the Pope of ignoring the "holocaust" that followed the 1492 landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. And Indian leaders in Brazil have voiced their displeasure with the pope's remarks. They said they were offended by Benedict's "arrogant and disrespectful" comments.

Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, which is Church-backed, said the pope's comments failed to take into account that Portuguese and Spanish settlers enslaved Indians and forced them to become Catholic.

On Wednesday, Pope Benedict stopped short of making a formal apology. But in the past, the Catholic Church has apologized to Brazil's Indians and blacks for the "sins and errors" committed by its clergy and faithful over the past 500 years. The head of Brazil's bishops' conference made that apology during the Vatican's Holy Year in 2000.