Vatican defiant over abuse scandals
Cardinal defends pope amid cover-up allegations, saying church will ignore "gossip".
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2010 13:35 GMT
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, left, spoek in the pope's defence during Easter Sunday mass [AFP]

A leading cardinal has defended the Catholic church and the pope amid growing pressure on the Vatican over a scandal concerning the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Speaking at an Easter Sunday service, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the college of cardinals, praised Pope Benedict XVI as the "solid rock" that holds up the church, and vowed that it would not be influenced by "petty gossip" about the scandals.

"Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes assail the community of believers," Sodano said during an Easter Sunday ceremony in St Peter's square in Rome.

The pope, in his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address, did not mention the scandal over the abuses and subsequent alleged cover-ups.

But he did speak of Easter as a time of pardon and truth.

"Humanity needs ... a spiritual and moral conversion," Benedict said.

"It needs ... to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences."

Church support

The change of protocol for Easter Sunday Mass that allowed Cardinal Solando to address the pope showed that the Vatican felt under pressure to highlight the work of many priests untainted by the scandals. 

In depth

  Pope Benedict's letter in full
  Pope's apology 'not enough'
  Pope responds to child abuse row
  Ireland's legacy of abuse
  'Scandal hidden in secret vaults'

"The church is with you!" Sodano told the pope to the cheers of thousands of people holding umbrellas outside the Vatican.

His speech of solidarity listed those who support the pope, particularly "the 400,000 priests who generously serve" in schools, hospitals and missions around the world.

Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent for The Times newspaper in London, said the speech indicates that the pope is confident that he is blameless in the affair.

"There is no evidence that he has committed any crime and the suggestion that he is implicated in aspects of a cover-up, which have been made in a few papers, have yet to be substantiated," she told Al Jazeera.

"Where there's a misunderstanding with how the modern world works is - if he were the head of any organisation in which this had occurred, he would be expected to be accountable for what had been done in the name of that organisation.

"So far he has not shown any awareness to the modern perception of how organisations work.

"Although the Catholic church is not an organisation like any other, there are people now saying 'Should we look at the legal aspects of this?' because there is a sense in which some confession of culpability seems to be expected from the pope himself."

'Collective guilt'

Organisations representing those abused by Catholic church officials have condemned the failure to take responsibility for the decades of alleged abuse and cover-ups which took place in a number of countries.

"Victims are seeking consolation and healing and should not be insulted and told that our speaking out is petty gossip," Barbara Blaine, a leader of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap)," told the Reuters news agency.

"The pope has said the truth should be exposed. They can't have it both ways."

Also on Sunday, Pope Benedict's personal preacher apologised to Jews after he compared attacks on the church and the pope over the sexual abuse scandals to
"collective violence" against Jews
throughout history.

"If - and it was not my intention to do so - I hurt the sensitivities of Jews and victims of paedophilia, I am truly sorry and I ask for forgiveness," Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

He said the pope was not aware of his remarks and that he heard them for the first time along with everyone else in St Peter's Basilica on Good Friday.

"The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of antisemitism," Cantalamessa had said last week as he quoted from a letter he said he had received from a Jewish friend.

A Vatican spokesman said the comparison "is absolutely not the line of the Vatican and of the Catholic church".

Fresh abuse allegations

Meanwhile, in the United States on Saturday, fresh allegations emerged in court documents that Cardinal William Levada, now the head of the Vatican department in charge of disciplining paedophile priests, had reassigned an alleged child molester in the 1990's without warning his parishioners.

The pope headed the same department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from 1981 to 2005, and himself faces allegations that he helped to protect paedophile priests both in that role and when he was archbishop of Munich in Germany.

Roman Catholic bishops in Belgium and Germany used their Easter homilies to issue forthright condemnations of the church's role in covering up for priests involved in abuse.

Belgium's Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said the church had mismanaged the crisis "with a guilty silence".

Robert Zollitsch, a German archbishop, said: "Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the church's dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides."

Shaken by the crisis, the Vatican has denounced what the Vatican's newspaper called a "crude campaign against the pope and Catholics".

Al Jazeera and agencies
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