The Deacon's Bench

Pope Benedict arrived in the United Kingdom — but not before making some news on the plane trip over (something that has almost become his custom):

As Pope Benedict XVI arrived here Thursday for the first state visit to Britain by a pope, he offered his strongest criticism yet of the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis, saying it had not been “sufficiently vigilant” or “sufficiently swift and decisive” in cracking down on abusers.

Speaking to reporters on his flight from Rome, Benedict also said that the church’s “first interest is the victims.”

“I must say that these revelations were a shock for me, a great sadness,” he said of the crisis that has undermined the church’s moral authority in many parts of Europe and beyond.

He expressed “sadness also that the authority of the church was not was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently swift and decisive to take the necessary measures.”

His remarks showed that the Vatican had perhaps begun to learn from its mistakes after months of stumbling in its response to the crisis.

Asked how the church could restore the faith of those shaken by the revelations of widespread priestly abuse, the pope said: “The first interest is the victims” and the church needed to determine “how can we repair, what can we do to help them to overcome the trauma, to re-find their lives.”

He was responding in Italian to reporters’ questions submitted in advance and relayed to him by Vatican officials. His words may have been designed to pre-empt a potentially hostile reception in Britain provoked by the church’s response to the abuse scandal.

Read on.

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