Pope Benedict XVI steered clear of the paedophile priest scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in his high-profile Easter speech, while top prelates closed ranks around him.
“The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment,” said the dean of the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano.
The unusual gesture just before Benedict began celebrating Easter mass in St Peter’s Square echoed the embattled pope’s own remarks a week ago when he urged Christians “not 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 on Sunday, made no mention of the scandals.
Humankind is in a ‘profound crisis’: Pope
However the pontiff made a broad call for a “spiritual and moral conversion” and said humankind was in a “profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences.”
In contrast, leading bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church’s role in covering up for predator priests.
Belgium’s Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, said in his Easter homily that the Church had mismanaged the crisis “with a guilty silence.”
Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, for his part, 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.”
Concerns mount over scandal
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,” Bartoloni told AFP.
Many of the pilgrims among the tens of thousands huddled under umbrellas for the rain-drenched Easter mass here defended the pope.
Edgar Meier of Germany accused the media of blowing up the affair, saying: “It’s not a typical thing of the Church. Journalists are making it something bigger than it really is.”
Calls for resignation
But another German in the crowd, Claudia Binion, said the pope “should resign because he is too implicated” in the crisis, which she called a “huge problem.”
“For those who have these tendencies, the Church is the best place to go because they are with children and are hidden and protected,” she charged.
The US group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the victims still seek concrete action from the pope.
“When we speak up and tell how our childhood innocence was shattereed by sexual assaults by priests it is not ‘petty gossip’,” said SNAP president Barbara Blaine. “Lofty statements from Vatican officials do not change the facts.”
Easter mass at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral did not go as smoothly as protesters hung pairs of children’s shoes on the railings to represent the victims of predator priests.
Abuse survivors heckled Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as he went inside, and protesters held placards reading: “Hypocrites for Jesus. Catholic Church rapes, abuses, destroys children and covers it up, covers it up, covers it up.”
In his homily, Martin said: “The spotlight of media and public opinion is focused on the failures and the betrayals of Church leaders and a damaging culture which has grown up in the Church.
“The truth will set the Church free, even if the truth is hard to digest,” he said.
Scandals trace back to 1930s
Predominantly Catholic Ireland has been rocked by three judicial reports in the past five years detailing child sex abuse and cover-ups going back to the 1930s.
The pope last month addressed a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics expressing “shame and remorse” over predator priests in Ireland and chided Irish bishops for making “serious mistakes” in responding to allegations.
The scandals have cast a pall over Easter, normally the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.
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 predator priests — had reassigned an alleged child molester in the 1990s 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 predator priests both in that role and when he was archbishop of Munich.