VATICAN CITY — Buffeted by a sexual abuse scandal that is quickly defining his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI marked the fifth anniversary of his election on Monday by telling a group of cardinals that he did not feel alone at the head of what he called a "wounded and sinner" church.
His remarks seemed yet another small and indirect reference to the growing sexual abuse scandal, which has focused more directly on whether Benedict, before he became pope, and his subordinates acted strongly enough against pedophile priests. Under increasing pressure to address the issue more forcefully, Benedict spoke a day after meeting with abuse victims during a pilgrimage to Malta.
At the anniversary lunch here Monday, he told 46 cardinals that he "very strongly feels that he is not alone; that he has on his side the entire college of cardinals, sharing with him tribulations and consolations, according to the Vatican newspaper.
He did not directly bring up the crisis, the paper said, but thanked the cardinals for their help at a time when the church seemed to press forward "amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God."
When Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II five years ago, many Vatican experts predicted that Benedict, a bookish scholar with a strong theological bent, would not inspire the same sort of public adoration as his predecessor. But few could have predicted that his papacy would be characterized by a series of controversies that have alienated Muslims, Jews, Anglicans and even many Roman Catholics.