Scandals cast pall over Easter
|Pope Benedict XVI delivering the traditional Urbi et Orbi Easter message from the central loggia of St Peter's Basilica yesterday at the Vatican. Photo: Osservatore Romano/AFP|
Easter Mass in a rain-drenched St Peter's Square kicked off with an unusual greeting from the dean of the College of Cardinals, who told the pontiff: "The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment."
Cardinal Angelo Sodano was echoing the Pope's remarks a week ago when he urged Christians not to be "intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions".
The Pope, in his much-anticipated "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message, made no mention of the scandals, although he made a broad call for a "spiritual and moral conversion... to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences."
Vatican expert Bruno Bartoloni said the Church was going through its "hardest period since the publication (in 1968) of the 'Humanae Vitae' (Of Human Life)" - a papal encyclical by Pope Paul VI that attacked use of the birth control pill as a mortal sin.
"At that time the crisis was as deep, with personal attacks against the Pope and the Church in general," Mr Bartoloni said. Easter pilgrims massed in St Peter's Square insisted yesterday their Church was not a haven for paedophiles as some accused the media of exaggerating the scale of abuse by Catholic priests. Many of the pilgrims among the tens of thousands huddled under umbrellas in St Peter's Square defended the Pope.
Edgar Meier of Germany faulted media coverage for blowing up the affair, saying: "It's not a typical thing of the Church. Journalists are making it something bigger than it really is."
The scandals have cast a pall over Easter, the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.
The crisis took a new twist on Friday when the Pope's personal preacher evoked a parallel between attacks on the pontiff and anti-Semitism.
Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests condemned Father Raniero Cantalamessa for quoting the comments, which he said were made in a letter from a Jewish friend, in his Good Friday sermon.
Father Cantalamessa issued an apology yesterday, telling the Italian daily Corriere della Sera: "If I inadvertently hurt the feelings of Jews and paedophilia victims, I sincerely regret it and I apologise."
Pope Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 on child sex abuse, calling it a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin." But the scandals have been gaining momentum relentlessly, putting the Vatican on the defensive.
"What matters is for the Church to admit the mistakes it has made. And it is doing so," argued Italian tourist Mario Mogavero.
Alvarez Darelli, a Catholic from Milan, also believed the Church was "doing its best" to stamp out paedophilia.
"The Church is made of men, and some of them make mistakes," argued Marino, a Catholic from Turin in Italy, sheltering from the rain under a tarpaulin with his wife and two children.
"Faith has nothing to do with the way some people behave," he said. "The most important thing is that they should not be protected."
But many others seemed to feel the Church was being unfairly stigmatised over what they said was a wider problem in society.
"There are cases everywhere, involving all kinds of people - so why should it not be the same in the Church?" agreed Sanne, a Belgian tourist.
"It is certainly a problem," acknowledged Natalya Tkashenko from Russia. But child abuse, she argued, "can be found in any closed institution, among men or women."
The scandal has cast a pall over Easter, which is supposedly the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.
Church leaders including the archbishop of Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois have denounced what they say is a smear campaign targeting the pope.
"Even though it is a serious problem, it has also been exploited" to harm the Church, complained Marino from Turin.
Edgar Meier, who travelled to Rome from the pope's native Germany, blamed the media for exaggerating the scale of the abuse.
"It's not a typical thing of the Church. Journalists are making this something bigger than it really is."
Pope Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 on sex abuse.
As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ordered bishops to report abuse cases to the Vatican and remove abusers from contact with youth.