Pope Stays Silent On Sex Abuse Scandals
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A leading cardinal at the Vatican chose Easter Sunday to make a statement defending the pope. The Catholic Church is under increasing pressure from sex abuse scandals, and that was on the mind of a church official as he stepped before a crowd for the Easter ceremony at St. Peter's Square.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on who the cardinal chose to blame for the trouble.
(Soundbite of a music)
Unidentified Man: (singing) Dominus nobiscum.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Under a large canopy protecting him from the rain, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in Latin. In a significant departure from tradition, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, opened the ritual with a stirring defense of Benedict against the international media.
Cardinal ANGELO SODANO (Dean, College of Cardinals, Vatican): (Through Translator) Holy Father, with you also are the people of God who are not letting themselves be upset by the petty gossip of the moment.
POGGIOLI: James Popen(ph), from the Philippines, welcomed Sodano's words.
Mr. JAMES POPEN: For me, our pope is a saint so I don't - I can't believe - he can't do it. It's just a humor.
POGGIOLI: But Vickie Nesbitt(ph) and her mother, Beth Marshall(ph), from England, were thinking about the many victims of sex abuse, particularly in Ireland.
Ms. VICKIE NESBITT: It should never have happened, particularly on the scale that it happened. It's just horrific, isnt it? But I do think that if he were to visit Ireland and make face-to-face apologies to these people and the people whove been affected, then that would make a difference.
Ms. BETH MARSHALL: A reassurance that it's got to stop, that it can't go on, you know, that it's going to be monitored from now on.
POGGIOLI: Allegations of sex abuse emerge every day, not only in Ireland and Germany but also the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and even in Italy on the Vatican's doorstep.
American Jesuit scholar Father Thomas Reese, says church leaders deceive themselves if they think the scandal will blow away.
Father THOMAS REESE (Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University): In Europe, they're upset because theyve had hundreds of victims come forward. Well, if it's anything like the United States, ultimately there are going to be thousands of victims coming forward. And I see no reason why Europe is going to be different than the United States.
POGGIOLI: Father Reese says the Vatican strategy, to blame the media as gossip mongers, is counterproductive.
Father REESE: It does no good to attack the media. It does no good to say, well, this all part of the permissive culture we live in; or, you know, this is part of, you know, the permissiveness that followed the Second Vatican Council. All that makes the church look like it's defensive, like it's downplaying the crisis. It needs to stand up, be transparent, acknowledge responsibility, ask for forgiveness, and make sure that this doesnt happen again to any children.
POGGIOLI: European bishops and cardinals have rallied to Benedict's defense, but the tone of criticism within European churches is getting louder. Many religious leaders used Holy Week to acknowledge mismanagement of sex abuse cases, and voice anguish over what they call the culture of silence.
In the pope's native Germany, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said the church needs to examine what he called its dark aspects.
Italian Catholic activist Luigi Sandri says sex abuse within the church is an age-old problem. What has changed, Sandri says, is that today's society is conscious of its individual rights, and Catholics are no longer willing to bow to the church's authoritarian rule.
Mr. LUIGI SANDRI (Activist): (Through Translator) You know what could be the outcome of this terrible sin, this tragedy? A third Vatican Council that will finally deal with the issue of how the church is governed and how the faithful should be allowed to choose their own bishops, not the Vatican, not the pope.
POGGIOLI: The scandal has begun to tarnish even the legacy of Benedict's predecessor, the beloved Pope John Paul II, who is said to be close to being made a saint. New allegations have been made that John Paul blocked several investigations into alleged cases of pedophile prelates.
Sylvia Poggiolo, NPR News, Rome.
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