VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI deplored priests who were unfaithful to their vows and called Thursday for a "frank and complete acknowledgment" of the Catholic Church's weakness in a letter to priests around the globe.
The letter was the first public statement from Benedict since an independent commission in Ireland issued a report last month detailing "endemic" molestation and rape at church-run boys' facilities and ritualized beatings at girls' schools from the 1930s to the 1990s.
Benedict didn't specifically cite the clerical sex abuse scandal that has convulsed the church in the United States, Ireland and elsewhere. But he was clearly referring to it in saying there had been "situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers."
"Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection," he said in the letter, which was sent to mark the start of the Vatican's "Year of the Priest."
He said while such scandals were to be deplored, there was also reason to rejoice because the Roman Catholic Church had so many generous and good pastors at work every day.
"What is most helpful to the church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God's gift," he wrote.
Benedict has spoken out frequently against clerical abuse and has met with American, Canadian and Australian victims. He has apologized for their anguish, prayed for their healing and denounced the "filth" in the priesthood that permitted such abuse.
But victims' groups said Benedict's words of sorrow "ring hollow."
"It's tiresome again to see verbal Vatican posturing about clergy sex crimes devoid of any action whatsoever or any admission that the real issue remains: callous bishops who continue to recklessly and deceptively transfer sexually troubled priests to unsuspecting parishes," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a U.S. support group.
Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy -- a vow Benedict has repeatedly said is not up for negotiation.
The 2,600-page report in Ireland -- which took nine years to compile and was resisted by the Catholic orders that ran the facilities -- concluded that church officials shielded pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy.
Benedict met with Ireland's two top prelates earlier this month to discuss the report.