As sexual abuse allegations surface against Roman Catholic priests nationwide, the head of the Mormon church acknowledged child sexual abuse within his own church and condemned ``the sordid and evil abuse.''

``It is a most despicable and tragic and terrible thing,'' Gordon B. Hinckley said Saturday night at the faith's 172nd semiannual General Conference.

``I regret to say that there has been some very limited expression of this monstrous evil among us,'' he said. ``It is something that cannot be countenanced or tolerated.''

His sharply worded address came during a closed, men-only Priesthood Meeting. He condemned ``the sordid and evil abuse of children by adults, usually men,'' according to a transcript released by the church.

Hinckley, 91, is considered a living prophet by the 11 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide.

The Mormon church faces several lawsuits involving allegations of abuse by church elders or abuse not reported by those in positions of authority. Last year, the church agreed to pay $3 million to an Oregon man who claims the church covered up for a pedophile who sexually abused him as a child.

Since January, dozens of Roman Catholic priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign on suspicion of child molestation, in a scandal that began surfacing in Boston.

On Sunday, while speaking to the entire congregation, Hinckley talked about the power of faith.

``We take one step at a time. In doing so we reach toward the unknown, but faith lights the way. If we will cultivate that faith, we shall never walk in darkness,'' Hinckley said.