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VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Pope John Paul II bluntly said sex abuse by priests in the United States ``was rightly considered a crime by society,'' telling American cardinals on Tuesday that there was no place in religious life for abusers.

The pope's comments came as American cardinals opened an extraordinary meeting with top Vatican officials to discuss a sex abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

``To the victims and their families where ever they may be I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern,'' he told the closed-door meeting in a speech in English released by the Vatican.

It was the pope's strongest words to date since allegations of sex abuse by priests began pouring out in January.