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Pope: Sex abuse scandal 'terrifying'

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives in St. Peter's Square last month.
Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives in St. Peter's Square last month.
  • Pope Benedict XVI says reality of church child abuse scandal is "terrifying"
  • Pontiff says most serious attacks on the church come from within
  • Benedic was speaking en route to Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal (CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI made one of his strongest statements to date on the sex abuse scandal sweeping the Roman Catholic Church, saying Tuesday the reality he has seen is "terrifying."

And he distanced himself from criticism of the media by senior Vatican officials, saying the most important attacks on the church don't come from the outside, they come from the sins of the members of the church, CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen said.

Benedict was speaking on his plane en route to Portugal, where he is making a four-day visit.

He has said very little in public about the scandal, which has swept Western Europe this year, leading bishops to quit or offer to quit in Ireland, Germany and Belgium.

Hundreds of people have come forward this year saying they were abused by priests or other Catholic authority figures there and in Austria, Netherlands and the United States.

He said three weeks ago he was "greatly moved" by meeting victims of abuse in Valletta, Malta.

He said he gave the victims "assurances of the church's action" after the April 18 meeting.

It is not clear if he plans to meet victims of abuse in Portugal, which has not been as badly shaken by the scandal as many other European countries.