By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The "terrible scandal" caused by some Irish pedophile priests and religious had caused him to suffer and pray for the victims of sex abuse, Pope John Paul II told 30 Irish bishops who were visiting the Vatican.
Addressing the bishops when he celebrated Mass for them in his private chapel, the pope said the sex-abuse scandals "sometimes lead to calls for a change in the discipline of celibacy."
But, he said, the "difficulties involved in preserving chastity are not sufficient reason for overturning the law of celibacy."
The pope’s references to sex-abuse scandals came as elderly priests continue to be brought before the courts and Garda investigations into allegations of abuse in religious-run schools and institutions intensify.
Further damaging revelations are expected when the three-person truth commission set up by the government begins hearings in the fall.
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The pope said that at a time when priests are suffering during to the pressure of cultural changes and the abuse scandals, they should be invited to draw strength from a deeper insight into their priestly identity and mission.
He told the Irish prelates who were in Rome for a 10-day visit that he prayed for the victims of abuse.
"We must also pray that those who have been guilty of this wrong will recognize the evil nature of their actions and seek forgiveness," the pope said.
The pontiff also referred to abortion and said that new ideas and energies were needed to meet the needs of couples in difficulty.
The church must reach out promptly to women facing "pressures to reject the unborn life they bear," he said.
"The new evangelism involves a strenuous defense of the right to life, the most basic of all human rights — more basic than any individual’s, group’s or government’s right to choose."