The pope's comments followed a meeting with Irish bishops after a damning Irish report into the church and child abuse.
The sexual abuse of children is not just a "heinous crime" but a "grave sin" that offends God and wounds human dignity, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday after a two-day meeting with Irish Catholic bishops at the Vatican.
The weakening of faith has also been a "significant contributing factor" in the sexual abuse of minors, the pope said, adding that "current painful situation will not be resolved quickly."
The pope's comments came in a written Vatican statement at the end of the meeting, the largest one yet about the scandal that has rocked the church from Ireland to the Vatican and beyond.
A damning report by an independent Irish commission in November found the Catholic Church in Ireland had covered up the "widespread" abuse of children from 1975 to 2004.
It led to the resignation of four Irish bishops late last year and prompted the pope to say at the time he was "deeply disturbed and distressed" by the report's findings.
A group representing alleged victims of abuse said the pope had not gone far enough.
Victims are "angered his Holiness did not see fit to take the necessary firm action against those in the Irish Church hierarchy who protected pedophiles," said John Kelly, the founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse.
The pope "has clearly failed the victims and the Irish people," he added.
Asking the bishops to address the problem "shows lack of vision, especially as it is the Irish bishops who are themselves the problem," Kelly said in the written statement.
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