VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that sexual abuses by priests were "egregious crimes" that had damaged the standing of the Catholic Church and its clergy, in his first explicit remarks on the subject since becoming pontiff.
Speaking to a group of bishops from Ireland -- an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where all but one seminary has closed following repeated scandals -- Benedict said it was urgent "to rebuild confidence and trust."
"In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending cases of sexual abuse of minors," the pontiff told the bishops. "These are all the more tragic when the abuser is a cleric.
"The wounds caused by such acts run deep," Benedict said.
The pope told the bishops that as they continue to deal with the problem, "it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes."
He mentioned only the crisis in Ireland, but his words were likely to resonate in other nations plagued by church abuse scandals.
In Ireland, the church's moral standing, Mass attendance, and applications for priesthood have plummeted since 1994, when the first major scandal involving a pedophile priest triggered the collapse of the government of Albert Reynolds, then prime minister.