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Pope wraps up synod on youth claiming persecution over abuse

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has wrapped up a monthlong meeting of bishops dedicated to young people by saying the Catholic Church is being "persecuted" and "dirtied" by accusations — an apparent reference to the clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandal.

Francis acknowledged Saturday that there were sinners in the church. But he insisted that the church itself is holy and must be protected from attacks and "another type of persecution: continuous accusations to dirty the church."

Speaking to about 260 bishops, 30 young people and a handful of nuns, Francis said the devil was behind the accusations being hurled at the church these days. He said: "This is the moment to defend the church."

A new eruption of claims of abuse and cover-up has thrown the Vatican and Catholic hierarchy into turmoil.

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