VATICAN CITY, Oct 28 (Reuters) Pope Benedict today said the wounds from sexual abuse in the Irish Church ''run deep'', and instructed bishops there to do whatever necessary to prevent repeat offences and rebuild confidence.
''In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending cases of sexual abuse of minors,'' the Pope told Irish bishops gathering at the Vatican.
''The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged.'' The Pope, in rare comments about the sensitive issue, said the Church needed to establish the truth about abuses and ensure that ''the principles of justice are fully respected''.
Although he was addressing bishops from Ireland, which had one of the Church's worst sexual abuse scandals, the words will resonate in other parts of the world, including the United States.
A U S paedophile priest scandal which erupted in Boston in 2002 spread to almost every Catholic diocese in the country, with several priests prosecuted and multi-million payments made to scores of victims.
US church files have also revealed that some bishops repeatedly transferred priests accused of abusing minors to other parishes rather than reporting them to police.
''It is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again,'' the Pope said, according to a copy of the speech released by the Vatican.
''Above all, (it is important) to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.
In the case of Ireland, revelations in the 1990s of systematic sexual abuse of young parishioners by priests over decades shattered the silent reverence most Irish held for the Church. They have also been blamed for hurting attendance.
The Pope said such crimes should be seen as exceptions in Ireland.
''The fine work and selfless dedication of the great majority of priests and religious in Ireland should not be obscured by the transgressions of some of their brethren,'' he said.
''I am certain that the people understand this, and continue to regard their clergy with affection and esteem.'' In May, the Pope took his first major decision involving sexual abuse charges since his election last year. He disciplined the ageing Mexican founder of an influential Catholic religious order who was accused of sexual abuse, instructing him to retire to a life of ''prayer and penitence''.
REUTERS DKB VC1832