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Pope Benedict XVI: Church's own 'sins' are greatest threat to Catholicism

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(Read caption) Pope Benedict XVI gestures during his remarks aboard a plane to Portugal today. He said that "sins inside the church" posed the greatest threat to Catholicism.

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Whether in business, church, or government, every organization finds it easier to point fingers than look in the mirror.

So it was no surprise – though still jaw-dropping – when a senior Vatican priest last month compared world outrage over new reports of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests to the persecution of the Jews. Other Vatican officials had called media reports of the scandal a "defamatory campaign."

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Today, however, in remarks to reporters aboard a plane en route to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI struck a different tone.

“The biggest weight on the church doesn’t come from the enemies outside, but is born from sin inside the church,” he said. “The church has a profound need to relearn penance….”

The vigor of the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to come to terms with past abuses and prevent future ones will determine the sincerity of the pope’s statement. His acceptance this weekend of the resignation of a German bishop at the heart of the scandal is a step in the right direction.

Still, the humility of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks is itself an important milestone. Imagine if we heard such self-critical admissions from…

Detroit automakers: “The biggest weight on the industry doesn’t come from Japanese carmakers, but from management mistakes.”

Consumers: “The biggest weight on my credit card statement doesn’t come from seductive retailers, but from my own gadget lust.”

The Boston Celtics: “The biggest weight on the team doesn’t come from the Cavaliers’ LeBron James, but from the weakness of our transition defense.”

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Honest self-reflection and accountability should be the standard, not the exception. The pope’s comments today help pave the way.