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Originally published Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 11:44 AM

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Pope acknowledges church failures in abuse scandal

Pope Benedict XVI, beginning a controversial state visit to Britain, acknowledged Thursday that the Catholic Church failed to act decisively or quickly enough to deal with priests who rape and molest children.

Associated Press Writer

EDINBURGH, Scotland —

Pope Benedict XVI, beginning a controversial state visit to Britain, acknowledged Thursday that the Catholic Church failed to act decisively or quickly enough to deal with priests who rape and molest children.

Speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Britain, Benedict said the church's top priority was now helping victims heal and regain their trust in the church.

The pope's comments marked his most thorough admission to date of church failures to deal with the sex abuse scandal, which has exploded anew with revelations in Belgium of hundreds of new victims, at least 13 of whom committed suicide over the years.

Benedict's four-day visit to Britain has been overshadowed by anger over the abuse scandal and marked by indifference in the highly secular country where Catholics are a small minority.

Benedict also said abusive priests must never have access to children, saying they suffered from an illness that mere "goodwill" couldn't cure.

The pope was answering questions, submitted in advance by journalists traveling with him to Britain, where anger about the abuse scandal remains high.

Protests are planned, "Pope Nope" T-shirts have been spotted around London and public discussions of the Roman Catholic Church's celibacy requirement for priests are being held.

Benedict acknowledged the opposition, saying Britain had a "great history of anti-Catholicism. But it is also a country with a great history of tolerance."

Benedict was asked about Britain's history of anti-Catholic sentiment and polls that suggest that the faithful had lost trust in the church as a result of the scandal. He said he was shocked and saddened upon learning of the scope of the abuse, in part because priests take vows to be Christ's voice upon ordination.

He said he felt "sadness also that the church authority was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently quick and decisive to take the necessary measures" to stop the abuse and prevent it from occurring again.

The pope said the victims were the church's top priority now.

He said he expected a warm welcome from Catholics and other believers and "mutual respect and tolerance" among those with anti-Catholic sentiments.

"I go forward with much courage and joy," he said.

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