Pope Benedict XVI avoided any mention of the sex scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church in recent months as he celebrated the first pre-Easter mass at St Peter's Basilica in Rome on Thursday.
AFP-The paedophile priest scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church cast a pall over pre-Easter celebrations Thursday as Pope Benedict XVI avoided direct references to the crisis.
Celebrating Maundy Thursday mass at Rome's Saint John in Lateran Basilica, the pontiff commemorated Christ's Last Supper by washing the feet of 12 priests representing the apostles in a symbol of humility.
Earlier Thursday, the pope made an oblique reference to the scandals as he recalled Jesus preaching to turn the other cheek.
"When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly," the pontiff said in his homily at a Holy Thursday mass in St Peter's Basilica.
The scandals have engulfed churches across Europe as well as the United States over the past five months.
Benedict himself has come under intense pressure with allegations published in the New York Times that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the chief Vatican enforcer of Catholic doctrine and morals, he failed to act against priests accused of child abuse.
The pontiff, 82, received a boost from the head of the US Catholic Church who Thursday defended his record in fighting predator priests, praising him for introducing measures to combat the scourge.
"It was Pope Benedict who gave us, in different ways, the ability to handle this crisis more quickly and in a way that helps to heal," Chicago Archbishop Francis George told Vatican Radio.
George said the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), "enabled us to keep the predators out of the priesthood permanently in ways that were not possible before and... encouraged us to reach out to victims."
Benedict headed the CDF from 1981 to 2005.
Late Wednesday, the current head of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada, slammed the Times' article, calling it "deficient by any reasonable standard of fairness" in a statement published on the Vatican website.
In the United States, a lawyer Tuesday went to court seeking to have Benedict questioned on what the Vatican knew about the long-running scandal.
The motion says Benedict was aware of clergy sex abuse in the United States and that he "discouraged prosecution of accused clergy and encouraged secrecy to protect the reputation of the Church" while heading the CDF.
It says documents released last week by the New York Times "unequivocally link Pope Benedict XVI... to child sexual abuse cases in the United States."
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano last week denounced what it called an "ignoble attempt" to smear the pope and his closest aides "at all costs."
In an editorial, the paper touted the pope's "transparency, firmness and severity" in response to cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
A French bishop who met the pope earlier this month said the pontiff had been deeply affected by the accusations of paedophilia against the Catholic Church.
"He is not being allowed the presumption of innocence: I have confidence in his will to bring clarity," said Michel Dubost, bishop of Evry, near Paris.
Benedict has continually spoken out and apologised for the "heinous crime" of child sex abuse by priests, meeting victims in the United States and in Australia.
The Roman Catholic Church has designated 2010 the Year for Priests, and Benedict said Thursday's Chrism mass -- in which priests renew their vows including that of celibacy -- would "take on a particular significance."
The paedophilia scandals have led to calls for the Church to rethink the centuries-old requirement of celibacy for priests, but several leading prelates have rejected any link between the two.
Benedict earlier this month defended celibacy as a "sign of full devotion" and of an "entire commitment to the Lord".
On Friday, the pope is to preside over a "Way of the Cross" procession at Rome's Colosseum recalling the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Saturday evening Benedict will hold an Easter vigil in St Peter's Square, where he will also celebrate Easter Mass on Sunday to be followed by his "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing.
Date created : 2010-04-02