Pope Benedict said man could sometimes “fall to the lowest, vulgar levels” and “sink into the swamp of sin and dishonesty” AP Photo
Pope dismisses ‘petty gossip’ of sexual abuse allegations
In Palm Sunday address pope says faith in God leads ‘towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated’
by Tom Kington in Rome
Pope Benedict, facing the worst crisis of his papacy as a sexual abuse scandal sweeps the Catholic church, declared today he would not be “intimidated” by “petty gossip”, angering activists who say he has done too little to stamp out paedophilia.
Addressing crowds in St Peter’s square during a Palm Sunday service, the pope did not directly mention the scandal spreading though Europe and engulfing the Vatican, but alluded to it during his sermon. Faith in God, he said, led “towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion”.
As Benedict spoke, the president of Switzerland, Doris Leuthard, called for a central register of paedophile priests to keep them away from children. In Austria, the archbishop of Vienna announced the creation of a commission funded by the church, but without church representatives, to look into Austrian abuse claims.
Benedict came under attack after it was revealed that he had been involved in dealing with two cases of abuse. In the first a German priest in therapy for paedophilia returned to work with children while the pope was archbishop of Munich. In the second, in the late 1990s when Benedict was a senior Vatican figure, his deputy stopped a church trial against a Wisconsin priest accused of abusing deaf boys.
Church officials say Benedict was unaware the German priest had returned to work and the Wisconsin case was reported to the Vatican 20 years after the fact.
The Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, has accused the media of a “clear and ignoble intent of trying to strike Benedict and his closest collaborators”.
But activists said they were angered by Benedict’s talk of intimidation today. “I hope this doesn’t fit into a pattern where the media is to be blamed,” said Sean O’Conaill of Voice of the Faithful, a group, which has campaigned for abuse victims. “The real courage needed here is to face issues the media has revealed.”
A letter from the pope to Irish Catholics apologised for abuse by priests in Ireland but did not specify punishments for Irish bishops who covered up for their crimes.
“The evidence of Benedict’s knowledge of abuse is mounting,” said Maeve Lewis, the Irish director for the child abuse campaign group One in Four. “The problem here is the protection of children and whether the pope has the credible leadership to push the church towards that.”
About 30 protesters waved placards stating “Pope Protects Paedophile Priests – Resign!” outside Westminster Cathedral in London today.
A prayer read during mass at St Peter’s in Rome today asked God to help “the young and those who work to educate and protect them”. In his sermon, Benedict said man could sometimes “fall to the lowest, vulgar levels” and “sink into the swamp of sin and dishonesty”.
yesterday, the Vatican appeared to backtrack on talk of a media plot, claiming that the church’s response to the scandal would be “crucial for its moral credibility”. A spokesman noted that most of the cases now emerging occurred decades ago.
But activists in Italy are building a list of more recent scandals and plan legal action against a bishop over alleged abuse in 2001. Father Ruggero Conti is standing trial, suspected of molesting 30 children. Interviewed by a magistrate in 2008, Gino Reali, the bishop who oversaw Conti’s parish, said he had ignored complaints “because you hear so many rumours”.
“If this priest is convicted, I plan to press charges against the bishop for aiding and abetting,” said Nino Marazzita, a lawyer and anti-paedophilia campaigner.