The pope’s remarks enroute to Scotland

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO SCOTLAND — Flying to Great Britain this morning, Pope Benedict XVI told reporters on his plane that the church was not vigilant enough or fast enough in responding to the problem of clerical sex abuse.

“These revelations were for me a shock, and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible,” he said.

Asked about sex abuse cases that have come to light in Europe and elsewhere in recent years, the pope said it was inexplicable to him how a priest who has promised at his ordination to act in the person of Christ, as a good shepherd, could “fall into this perversion.”

“It is a great sadness. It is a sadness, also, that the authority of the church was not vigilant enough, was not sufficiently fast and decisive in taking the necessary measures,” he said.

The 83-year-old pope, responding to questions the journalists submitted in advance, also said he looked forward to a fair hearing in Britain, saying the country had a long tradition of tolerance along with historical moments of anti-Catholicism.

Asked about criticism of his visit from some quarters in British society, including secular and atheistic voices, he said that he would try to make it clear that the church was not preaching a message about its own power, but about the saving message of the Gospel and the need to help the weak.

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