For the third day in a row, Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday addressed the lingering taint of child sexual abuse by priests, urging US Catholics to aid the healing process from the revelations. ( dpa )
But he also noted the "signs of a disturbing breakdown" in society, which suffers "alienation, anger and polarization" and rising "violence," and called for Catholics in the United States to turn to "Christ our Hope" and remember the tenets of Catholic faith in Jesus Christ.
"I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," Benedict said in a homily before 46,000 people gathered in sparkling spring weather for open-air Mass at Washington's baseball stadium. "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse."
"Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation and to assist those who have been hurt," Benedict said.
Before the Mass started, a roar went up as Benedict entered the stadium and travelled around the track in the popemobile before taking his place on the elaborate altar that transformed the home of one of America's other "religions," baseball.
Dressed in red, white and gold raiments, Benedict said he was "happy" to be in Washington.
"May our time together help us to be renewed in the hope and love of our Lord Jesus Christ," Benedict said.
Benedict, whose visit to the White House on Wednesday drew a crowd of 13,500, the largest during George W Bush's seven-year US presidency, has drawn crowds along Washington's streets and showed delight at being in the US.
"God Bless America," he cried as he ended his remarks at the White House and waved his arm.
But during his homily on Thursday at the Mass, he also noted that early American settlers had not always been just in their pursuit of "new freedom and opportunity" in the "vastness of the unexplored wilderness."
"This promise was not experienced by all the inhabitants of this land," he said. "One thinks of the injustices endured by the native American peoples and by those brought here forcibly from Africa as slaves."
Benedict spoke in English heavily accented with his native German, and he also said some words in Spanish - in recognition of the fact that one-third of the nation's adult Catholics are immigrants mostly of Latin American origin.
Addressing the pain caused by the decades long molestation has been a key element of Benedict's six-day US visit.
A victim's group, the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), believes Benedict has fallen short of what needs to be done.
David Clohessy, SNAP's national director, said in a telephone interview that the group had hoped Benedict would "in some way publicly chastise or sanction or suspend or defrock bishops who either suspected abuse and kept silent or knew of abuse and concealed it."
"We're interested in prevention, not punishment," he said. "We want complicit bishops disciplined for one simple reason to deter future recklessness and secrecy."
To date, only bishops and priests who have actually committed abuse themselves have been defrocked and suspended, SNAP says.
In his homily, Benedict called for renewal among US Catholics amid rising secularism as he remembered the history of the church and marked the 200th anniversary of the Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Louisville, Kentucky dioceses.
"The fidelity and courage with which the church in this country will respond to the challenges raised by an increasingly secular and materialistic culture will depend in large part upon your own fidelity in handing on the treasure of our Catholic faith," he told the faithful.
During the service, 300 priests and deacons distributed Communion in a mere 30 minutes A special few actually received the sacrament directly from the pope.
Catholics believe the bread and wine used in the rite that marks Jesus' last meal with his disciples become the body and the blood of Christ during Communion.
Thursday's Mass in Washington's Nationals Park - a new stadium - is the first of two during the visit, with a service also scheduled for Yankee Stadium in New York on Sunday, which will be among the last events the ageing sport venue before it's torn down when baseball season ends this summer.
Mass participants won their chances to celebrate with the pope through lotteries at their local parishes.
Even before his arrival on Tuesday, Benedict told reporters onboard his flight from Rome that he was "deeply ashamed" over the scandal of priests molesting young children - crimes which only emerged as victims became adults.
On Wednesday the pope told bishops that the church's reforms to cope with and prevent molestation "need to be placed in a wider context" of addressing "sexuality and its proper place in human relationships."