The Roman Catholic church has been "wounded by sin", Pope Benedict XVI has said, in an apparent reference to the recent wave of sex abuse scandals.
He made the comments as he began a two-day visit to Malta on Saturday, his first foreign trip since the full scale of the scandals emerged.
"I know Malta loves Christ and his church that is his body and knows that even if this body is wounded by our sins, God still loves this church and his gospel is the true force that purifies and heals," he told reporters on the flight from Italy.
On the pontiff's first day in Malta, about 100,000 people - roughly a quarter of the nation's population - turned out to see him as he moved through the streets of the capital Valetta.
Maltese victims of alleged sex abuse by Catholic priests were also hoping to meet Benedict.
Ten men who testified that they were sexually molested by priests at an orphanage during the 1980s and 1990s said they wanted the meeting to help them close a "hurtful chapter" in their lives.
The men say they were abused by four priests at a Catholic home for boys, alleging that if they resisted sexual advances they would be asked to leave the home, which was their only shelter.
By Saturday evening, Benedict had not met with any of the men, Reverend Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, told the Associated Press, adding that if he does see them it would only be announced after the meeting.
Benedict, in his earlier roles as an archbishop in Germany and later in his tenure at the helm of the Vatican morals office, has been accused by victim support groups of being part of a systematic cover-up by the church hierarchy of suspected paedophile priests.
The groups are demanding he take responsibility for the Vatican as an institution.
George Abela, the president of Malta, also discussed the issue at an airport ceremony welcoming the Pope.
"It would be wrong in my view to try to use the reprehensible indiscretions of the few to cast a shadow on the church as a whole," President George Abela told the pontiff.
"The Catholic church remains committed to safeguarding children and all vulnerable people and to seeing that there is no hiding place for those who seek to do harm."
Abela called on the church and state authorities to work together so that "effective, transparent mechanisms are set up together with harmonised and expeditious procedures in order to curb cases of abuse so that justice will not only be done, but be seen to be done."