During his homily at a Vatican mass today, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the latest round of criticism the Church has received over recently exposed patterns of child abuse in the United States and Germany. For the past month, as damaging news reports have piled up, he's allowed his deputies to speak for him, for the most part. But today he seemed to speak directly about the issue, and invoked the Christian spirit of atoning. "I have to say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word 'penance,' which seems too harsh" he said, according to Vatican Radio. "Now under the attacks of the world that talks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to perform penance is a grace and we see how it is necessary to perform penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life."
This is a marked departure from the tone of defiance that his spokespeople have adopted recently while defending him from attacks that he did not do enough prior to becoming Pope to protect children from pedophile priests under his control. But the Pope's homily was not entirely devoid of defiance. "Thank God we don't live under dictatorships today, but there exist subtle forms of dictatorships a conformity, in which it's obligatory to think like everyone else, to act like everyone," he said. "The subtle aggression against the church — or even less subtle — shows how this conformity can really be a true dictatorship."