Thousands In St. Peter's Square Rally For Pope

As the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has widened, church officials have accused the media of using the story to attack the pope. But last week, Pope Benedict said the scandal came from within the church and that forgiveness does not exclude justice. Still, many Catholic faithful say their church is under siege.

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In Rome, Catholic Church officials have been accusing the media of using the story of a widening sexual abuse scandal to attack the pope. Then last week, Pope Benedict changed the tone, saying the scandal was created from within the church.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has more on this story from Rome.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square, Sunday, to express solidarity with the pope. Benedict was visibly moved by the show of support, but he reiterated his newly stated position - the sex abuse scandal was born from sins within the church, not from external attacks.

Pope BENEDICT XVI: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: The real enemy to fear and to fight is sin, he said, which sometimes unfortunately affects even members of the church. We live in the world but we are not of the world, Benedict added, even if we must guard against its temptations.

(Soundbite of hymn)

POGGIOLI: This was in sharp contrast to remarks made on Palm Sunday when Benedict said he would not be intimidated by petty gossip. And it contrasted with claims by many Vatican officials that anti-Catholic hatred was the cause of media coverage of pedophile priests.

Yet Carlo Santoro(ph), a member of a lay Catholic group, says the media exploited the sex scandals.

Mr. CARLO SANTORO: We want to support the pope because the church, in this moment, needs the solidarity, needs unity. The media, they played a bad role because they like to make noise, make rumors. They try to find every way to attack the pope and the church. These cases were used just to accuse the church. This is not right. It's not correct.

(Soundbite of singing)

POGGIOLI: But not all Italian Catholics approve the church's handling of the crisis. In this small church in a Tuscan fishing village, Irina Carwana(ph), mother of two, is furious about pedophile priests protected by their superiors.

Ms. IRINA CARWANA: (Through Translator) They certainly should have been punished, not moved from parish to parish. It's disgusting. They should all be rounded up and strung up.

POGGIOLI: Analysts see the pope's shift away from blaming the media as a turning point in the Vatican's perception of the crisis. Veteran Vatican watcher Marco Politi says it's now up to the Holy See to make public cases of pedophile priests that have long been kept secret.

Mr. MARCO POLITI (Vatican Analyst): And specially to open its archives of the year '80s and '90s, in order to show clearly what has been made, what has not been made, and how many files are still without an answer.

POGGIOLI: Some housecleaning has begun. Several European bishops who either covered up sex abuse or admitted being predators themselves have resigned.

Anger and nervousness is reflected within the top ranks, where a tradition of silence and secrecy has prevailed for centuries. And not everyone is willing to embrace Benedict's new zero-tolerance policy.

In an unprecedented move, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn accused the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, of having obstructed investigations against pedophile priests while he was number two to Pope John Paul II.

Schonborn, who is close to Pope Benedict, his former professor, took advantage of the sex abuse crisis to say that church governance urgently needs reforms. He said it's time for the church to re-examine its position on divorced Catholics and, he said, lasting gay relationships deserve respect.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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