FATIMA, Portugal — Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today, asserting key church teachings as he tried to move beyond the clerical abuse scandal.
Benedict made the comments to Catholic social workers, health providers and others after celebrating Mass before an estimated 400,000 people in Fatima. The central Portuguese farming town is one of the most important shrines in Christianity, where three shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917.
Benedict's visit to Fatima on the anniversary of the apparitions was the spiritual centerpiece of his four-day visit to Portugal, which ends today. It was cast by Vatican officials as evidence that he had turned a page in weathering the abuse scandal, which has dogged him for months.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, pointed to the turnout in Fatima and said it was "very beautiful and encouraging" that pilgrims hadn't been deterred in expressing their faith despite months of revelations in Europe about priests who molested children and bishops and Vatican officials who turned a blind eye.
The faithful understand "the capacity of the church to effectively overcome — via conversion, penance and prayer — the dimension of real sin there is in our community," Lombardi said.
Benedict himself admitted to the "sins within the church" on the first day of the trip, his most explicit admission of church culpability in the scandal. By Thursday, however, he had moved on to stressing core church teachings in the largely Roman Catholic country, where abortion on demand has been available since 2007 and where Parliament in January passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage. In addition, a judge in 2008 made it easier to obtain divorce even when one spouse objects.
Benedict told the gathering of lay Catholics that he appreciated their efforts fighting abortion and promoting the family based on the "indissoluble marriage between a man and woman" — the Vatican's way of expressing its opposition to divorce and same-sex unions.
Such initiatives "help respond to some of the most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good today," he said.