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Pope claims Church is under attack

April 15, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, April 15, 2010

Pope Benedict, under fire for the Vatican’s handling of the child sexual abuse scandal, on Thursday called on Roman Catholics to do penance for their sins, but did not directly address the issue of paedophile priests.

During mass at the Vatican, Pope Benedict spoke of the Church under “attack from the world which speaks to us of our sins”, his first allusion to the crisis since he specifically apologised to the Irish nation in a letter on March 20.

However his homily – in which he spoke of sins rather than crimes and compared critics of the Church with the aggression of a dictatorship – was likely only to enflame victims’ groups demanding effective action by the Vatican against abusive priests and the bishops accused of covering up their crimes.

The pope’s remarks came as he prepared for his first overseas visit this weekend since the crisis erupted two months ago with floods of reports across Europe of child-abusing priests, some cases dating back decades. The Vatican has indicated that Pope Benedict might meet this weekend with victims of abuse in Malta who have demanded an apology.

“Now, under the attacks of the world, which speak to us of our sins, we see that to be able to do penance is a grace – and we see how necessary it is to do penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our lives, to recognize one’s sin, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare for pardon, to allow oneself to be transformed,” the pope said, quoted by Vatican Radio.

Vatican Radio also reported that the pope spoke of subtle forms of dictatorship like that of “radical conformism”, which can lead to “subtle and not-so subtle aggression toward the Church”.

This week the Vatican published its guidelines on how it deals with paedophile priests, making clear that local bishops must report suspected crimes to the relevant civil authorities. But this attempt to demonstrate more transparency was immediately overshadowed by remarks made by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, who said homosexuality and not clerical celibacy was a cause of abuse of minors.

Pressure on the pope to act decisively intensified on Thursday when Hans Kueng, a Swiss priest and dissident theologian, wrote an open letter to bishops around the world urging them to implement reforms from below, accusing Benedict, 82, of being isolated and running “a papacy of missed opportunities”.

“Countless people have lost their faith in the Catholic Church,” he wrote in the letter, published in newspapers in Switzerland, Italy and the pope’s native Germany. Mr Kueng, who was stripped by the Church of his licence to teach theology for challenging the precept of papal infallibility, said priests should be allowed to marry. He also added his voice to growing calls for another Vatican Council to push for reforms blocked by the conservative establishment.

The US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests on Thursday urged the pope to oust clerics who had molested US children but now reportedly worked for the Church in other countries, and to create an “international, on-line registry of proven, admitted and credibly accused predator priests”.

As well as defending the pope on theological grounds and asserting his immunity from possible prosecution as head of state, the Vatican has forcibly rejected reports alleging that Benedict himself had c

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