updated 12/15/2006 5:36:45 PM ET 2006-12-15T22:36:45

Pope Benedict XVI’s personal preacher asked the pontiff on Friday to declare a day of fasting and penance to publicly declare repentance and to express solidarity with the victims of clerical sex abuse.

In a strongly worded lecture, he denounced the “abominations” committed inside the church “by its own ministers and pastors” and declared that the Roman Catholic Church had “paid a high price for this.”

“The moment has come, after the emergency, to do the most important thing of all: to cry before God,” the priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, said in the first of a series of pre-Christmas lectures in the presence of the pope in a Vatican chapel.

The Vatican said it had no immediate comment on the speech, which Cantalamessa sent to some Vatican reporters.

Cantalamessa suggested that the church “indicate a day of fasting and penance, at local and national level, where the problem was particularly strong, to publicly express repentance before God and solidarity with the victims.”

Victims advocates call for more
A U.S. advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by clergy criticized the call as inadequate.

“Decisive action protects kids, not nice gestures,” Barbara Blaine, national president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement.

“We’d much rather the pope discipline complicit bishops instead, because that’s what is just, appropriate and effective,” she said, contending that hundreds of bishops had covered up thousands of sex crimes.

Although the pope’s reaction was not immediately known, Benedict has recently said that the church must urgently rebuild confidence and trust damaged by clerical sex abuse, telling Irish bishops in October that “the wounds caused by such acts run deep.”

The pope’s comments to bishops from Ireland — which, along with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, was hard hit by the scandal — were his first explicit remarks on the subject since he became pope.

In March 2005, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, denounced what he called “filth” in the church “even among those ... in the priesthood.” Those words were seen by many as a possible denunciation of the abuse scandals.

Cantalamessa cited the pope’s words to the Irish bishops, but he also took a swipe at clergy who he said were “seeking to profit from the sensation, even profiting from their own sins, releasing interviews, writing memoirs in an attempt to throw the blame on their superiors and the religious community.”

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