Pope Benedict has urged American Catholic bishops to reach out to the child victims of sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests - a scandal that has tarnished the reputation of the Church over the past several years. The pontiff made his appeal during a formal address to a group of bishops in Washington late Wednesday. VOA's Alex Villarreal reports.

delivered his address at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America, and one of the ten largest churches in the world.

He acknowledged that the scandal involving sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests was "sometimes very badly handled" and called upon the bishops to rectify the situation.

"It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged."

The pontiff also encouraged bishops to reach out to Catholic priests and help them come to terms with the shame they have experienced as a result of the crisis. He said the policies and programs adopted to heal the situation need to be placed in a wider context.

"We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task - not only parents, religious leaders and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it," he said.

Later in his address, the pope warned against secularism, materialism and individualism as potential threats to the way people exercise their faith. He called for the expansion of Catholic education programs to restore dedication to the faith.

The pope praised the American Catholic community for its diversity and encouraged bishops to welcome new immigrants.

Just before the remarks, Pope Benedict led the evening prayer service, called Vespers.

On Thursday, the pontiff is set to deliver a morning mass at Nationals Park, home to Washington's major-league baseball team. This will be the first non-sporting event in the stadium since it opened last month.

Later in the day, the pope will address Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America and hold an interreligious gathering at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.

He leaves for New York on Friday.