Really, really, really strong apology

Strongest. Apology. Ever.

In London on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI again addressed the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The pontiff "issued his strongest apology yet for child abuse by the clergy, denouncing it as an 'unspeakable crime,'" The Daily Mail reported.

As The Herald Scotland put it, Benedict offered "his strongest statement of contrition yet for the abuse scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member global community of Catholicism." Indeed, reported ITN News (see video with this post), citing the pope's "strongest public apology yet over the scandal of pedophile priests." Using the same language, Voice of America called it "his strongest apology to date." The Independent said the pope used "his strongest language so far when discussing the scandal."

However, The Guardian wasn't quite ready to call what Benedict said an apology. That newspaper's main head and subhead today:

Pope meets victims of child abuse and expresses 'deep sorrow and shame'

Strongest language so far but victims' groups say comments do not add up to an apology

But you get the point: The pope never has spoken this strongly on his remorse or regret over the abuse scandal.

OK, just one more news report to drive home the point:

His remarks were the strongest he has used in confronting the scourge which has rocked the Catholic church globally, but failed to satisfy some victims.

Oh, wait a minute. Now I need to apologize -- in the strongest possible terms. I got confused. The above excerpt actually came from a July 2008 news report on Benedict's "historic apology for child sex abuse" during that summer's trip to Sydney, Australia. Forget I mentioned that. I'm sure that apology wasn't anywhere near as strong as the latest one.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks to young people and worshippers at the close of a mass at Westminster Cathedral in London September 18, 2010. The Pope is on a four day visit to England and Scotland REUTERS/Luke MacGregor  (BRITAIN - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS)

The Sydney apology, of course, trumped Benedict kneeling in prayer a few months earlier alongside five victims of clergy sex abuse at a chapel inside the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. At that time, the pope offered "his most dramatic gesture so far during a U.S. visit in which he has paid much greater attention than expected to the wounds caused by the abuse scandal."

Admittedly, I have not parsed every word the pope has said -- or apology he has made -- on the abuse scandal. If you have, by all means, please weigh in with a comment and educate me.

From a journalistic perspective, though, I am perplexed: Who exactly ranks the pope's apologies in terms of strongness? Who decides what ranks as the strongest apology ever? What makes what Benedict has said in London so much stronger than what he has said elsewhere?

It does appear that journalists in Britain were much more smitten with the strongness of what Benedict said than leading American newspapers and the Vatican writers for The Associated Press.

AP described Saturday's remarks simply as the pope's "latest effort to defuse the sex abuse crisis shaking his church."

The Los Angeles Times used similar language:

In the latest in a string of such audiences, the pontiff also met privately with several victims of abuse even as thousands of protesters marched through the British capital to highlight the scandal over pedophile priests and to blast the Vatican's stand on homosexuality, the ordination of women and the use of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS.

The New York Times didn't use the term strongest but seemed to up the ante more than AP and the L.A. Times:

His remarks followed other recent comments in which he has struck an increasingly remorseful tone about the abuse scandal. But they took on added weight for the fact that they were made before 2,000 worshipers in the cathedral that is the seat of Catholicism in England, and ahead of a protest march on a scale rare in the recent history of the papacy.

Increasingly. Remorseful. Tone.

Not quite strongest apology ever. But I guess it'll work in a pinch.

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