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Child abuse overshadows Pope’s Easter

April 4, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: April 4 2010

Pope Benedict

Clutching his coloured umbrella like a candle, as if in prayer, a priest from Germany scurried off when asked about the child abuse crisis buffeting the Catholic Church. Behind him loudspeakers conveyed Pope Benedict’s quavering Easter greetings in many tongues, from Urdu to Irish.

Perhaps it was the constant rain, which picked up just as the pontiff launched into his twice yearly Urbi et Orbi (To the City and World) message on Easter Sunday, but the crowd in St Peter’s Square seemed thinner than usual and people in a hurry to leave. The mood was distinctly more reflective. Applause for the pontiff was scattered.

Pope Benedict delivers his ‘Urbi et orbi’ message in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday amid rain and only scattered applause

“The Pope needs to speak out, and soon. Today is an opportunity,” ventured a woman from Heidelberg. She voiced her doubts over the Pope’s ability to manage this crisis, but affirmed that she was not among the 20 per cent of German Catholics who in a recent poll declared their intention to leave the Church.

“It is men who sin, not the Church. The Church is healthy,” offered a man from Congo dressed in his Sunday best. Asked if the Pope had done wrong in the past in failing to deal decisively with predator priests – as reported in Germany and the US – the man replied: “God will judge.”

A young Polish priest expressed his faith in the Pope who turns 83 this month. “Look how strong he is,” the priest said, gesturing towards the frail, rather hunched figure projected onto four giant screens around the square. The priest said he had no doubt the Church would overcome what he saw as a media-generated storm.

While Catholic bishops and cardinals around the world used Easter week to offer their expressions of shame over paedophile priests and declare their intention to rid the Church of its cover-up culture, the Vatican has appeared either oblivious or in denial.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, departed from normal tradition in St Peter’s Square to deliver a eulogy to the Pope.

”Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials which sometimes buffet the community of believers,” the Cardinal said.

His words echoed those of the Pope a week earlier when he indicated on Palm Sunday that faith in God allowed one not to be intimidated by the “chatter of prevailing opinions”. On Easter Sunday, the Pope dwelled on the need of humankind in “profound crisis” to undergo a “spiritual and moral conversion”. No mention was made of the issue on the minds of many assembled in the square below him.

The only direct reference to the crisis in a whole week of the Vatican’s Easter celebrations came when Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, compared what he called the attacks on the Church and Pope to anti-semitism. Subsequent uproar among Jewish groups and victims of abuse prompted an apology.

Barbara Blaine, a founder of the US Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said: “Deeply wounded victims and our family members need comfort and healing but instead receive reprimands and insults. When we speak up and tell how our childhood innocence was shattered by sexual assaults by priests it is not ‘petty gossip’.”

Ms Blaine said: “The track record of the Pope has been to cover up and seek silence about the sex crimes by priests. The Pope has said very little and taken no decisive action to rid the church of the sexual predators nor to offer justice to victims.”

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