But he also addressed the church's sex abuse problems in the wider context of secularism and the over promotion of sex.

 

"What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?" he said.

 

The pope made the comments critical of the Roman Catholic clergy after a talk by Francis George, a cardinal and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 

Clergy scandal

 

George said the consequences of the clergy abuse scandal "and of its being sometimes very badly handled by bishops makes both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic".

 

"What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?"

Pope Benedict XVI
The pope concurred, saying: "Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the president of your episcopal conference has indicated, it was sometimes very badly handled."

 

The trip is the first by a Roman Catholic pope since a wave of abuse scandals came to light in the US in 2002, provoking legal action that led to more than $2bn in settlements.

 

The pope, however, is not expected to meet abused victims of paedophile priests, and one group of victims, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (Snap), said more had to be done.

 

"We're way beyond the point at which an apology, a nice gesture, a few soothing words and promises, will be meaningful," Snap said in a statement quoted by AFP.

 

The pope began his six-day visit to the US with a ceremony at the White House including more than 9,000 guests.

 

Diplomacy urged

 

Only the second pope to visit the White House and the first to do so in 29 years, Benedict called on the US to use diplomacy to resolve international disputes during a speech at the White House.

 

"America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes,'' he said.

 

The pope and president said terrorism must be
fought while protecting human rights [EPA]
"I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress."

 

A joint statement stressed a common desire by the pope and George Bush, the US president, to seek a peaceful Middle East with the creation of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side at peace with Israel.


They also expressed "their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon" and denounced terrorism.

 

Confronting terrorism

 

"They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights," the statement said.

 

On the issue of immigration, that has caused conflict between the US and the Vatican, both men said they understood the need "for a co-ordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families" the statement said.

 

The pope had said in his White House speech that the US must do "everything possible to fight ... all forms of violence so that immigrants may lead dignified lives".

 

Hispanics make up nearly 40 per cent of the 70 million Catholics in the US, and are increasingly targeted in efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants.