VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI told priests Sunday to safeguard children in their charge from evil and win the “absolute” trust of their flock, even as his own papacy is clouded by accusations he and other top churchmen failed to protect minors adequately from pedophile clergy.

Since a trip to Malta a week earlier when he wept with adults who had been sexually abused as children by priests, Benedict seems to be stepping up his reaction as the scandal deepens and widens, posing the most challenging crisis in decades for the Roman Catholic Church.

Benedict, in remarks to the public in St. Peter’s Square, told priests they must “fight for the defense of the flock,” defend their charges from “evil” and ensure that the faithful can place “absolute trust” in their pastors.

The pontiff urged them to model themselves on Jesus the “Good Shepherd,” who, “with immense tenderness, safeguards his flock and defends it from evil,” adding “only in him can the faithful place their absolute trust.”

But Benedict made no admission of responsibility for devising and overseeing what victims in lawsuits contend were strategies to protect the church from scandal instead of children from harmful priests.

In remarks from his studio window in the Apostolic Palace, he appeared intent on guiding the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics through the crisis. He thanked the crowd and “all those who with their prayers and affection support my ministry” as pontiff.

Benedict singled out for praise an Italian church group that promoted Sunday as a national day to remember abused children.

The Meter Association combats pedophilia in the Italian Catholic church. But while hailing its work in defending children from “violence, exploitation and indifference,” the pope never used the word “pedophilia” and did not mention the violence that children have suffered at the hands of priests and, in at least a couple of cases, even bishops.

Instead the pope focused on the good clergy do for children.

“Above all, I want to thank and encourage all those who dedicate themselves to prevention and education” against violence, Benedict said, singling out parents, teachers and the “so many priests, nuns” and others who work with young people in parishes, schools and church groups.

Benedict so far has resisted calls that he take responsibility for his own actions, first as archbishop in Germany, and later in his long years heading the Vatican watchdog office against immorality.


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