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Pope Decries 'Sin Within The Church'; Strongest Words Yet About Scandal

Pope Benedict XVI gestures during his speech aboard a plane on the way to Portugal on May 11, 2010. i

The pope earlier today. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images) hide caption

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Pope Benedict XVI gestures during his speech aboard a plane on the way to Portugal on May 11, 2010.

The pope earlier today. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

"The greatest persecution of the Church does not come from outside enemies, but is born of sin within the Church," Pope Benedict XVI said today in what are being described as his most direct comments so far about the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church around the world.

According to the Associated Press, the pope's words:

"Appeared to repudiate the Vatican's initial response to the scandal, in which it blamed the media as well as pro-choice and pro-gay marriage advocates for mounting a campaign against the church and the pope in particular. Since then, however, Benedict has called for penance and promised the church would take action to protect children and make abusive priests face justice."

The BBC adds that:

"Critics have previously accused the Vatican of attempting to blame the media and the Church's opponents for the escalation of the scandal. But the Pope made clear its origin came from within the Church itself, and said forgiveness 'does not replace justice'."

Benedict made his comments to reporters while on a plane headed to Portugal.

Update at 12:10 p.m. ET. From Rome, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli says the pope's words about " 'sins within the church', pin the blame for the crisis directly on pedophile priests":

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