The Pope has laid the blame for the “truly terrifying” clerical sex abuse crisis squarely on the Catholic Church for the first time as he arrived in Portugal for a four-day visit.

Nick Squires in Lisbon reports:

Benedict XVI said that “the greatest persecution of the church does not come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church.”

His remarks were a repudiation of a string of senior figures of Vatican who in recent months have attributed the scandal to a shadowy conspiracy mounted by outsiders, ranging from a hostile media to liberals within the Church.

The Vatican has been strongly criticised for trying to apportion blame elsewhere and there was outrage when a close ally of the pope, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, last month dismissed the child abuse allegations as “petty gossip”.

In some of his strongest comments yet on the crisis which has dismayed Catholics around the world, the 83-year-old pontiff said that while the Church had suffered from problems of its own making in the past, the scale of the present challenge today was “truly terrifying”.

“The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also the necessity of justice,” he said.

The Catholic Church has been convulsed by allegations that many bishops did too little, too late to stop the activities of paedophile priests, first in the United States and Australia and more recently in Ireland and continental Europe.

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