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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-19

A senior cardinal (pictured left) on Sunday said the faithful would not be influenced by "idle chatter" in a reference to the avalanche of paedophile priest scandals engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

AFP - Top Vatican prelates rallied around Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday as paedophile priest scandals have plunged the Roman Catholic Church into its worst crisis in decades.

Easter mass in a rain-drenched St Peter's Square kicked off with an unusual greeting from the dean of the College of Cardinals, who told the pontiff: "The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment."

Cardinal Angelo Sodano was reprising the same phrase the pope used a week ago when he urged Christians "not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions".

In Paris, the archbishop of the city and head of the Catholic Church in France, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, said there was a "smear campaign aimed at the pope".

It was Benedict, then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, who "as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraged bishops to take action against paedophilia by systematically informing Rome of such cases," he told Le Parisien newspaper.

However the top 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".

Germany's top 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."

The scandals have cast a pall over Easter, the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected.

In his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message, the pope, wearing a gold mitre and white and gold vestments, said humankind needed "a spiritual and moral conversion... to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences."

The crisis over predator priests took a new twist on Friday when the pope's personal preacher evoked a parallel between attacks on the pontiff and anti-Semitism.

Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests condemned Father Raniero Cantalamessa for quoting the comments, which he said were made in a letter from a Jewish friend, in his Good Friday sermon.

Cantalamessa issued an apology on Sunday, telling the Italian daily Corriere della Sera: "If I inadvertently hurt the feelings of Jews and paedophilia victims, I sincerely regret it and I apologise."

Benedict has spoken out several times since the start of his papacy in 2005 on child sex abuse, calling it a "heinous crime" and a "grave sin." But the scandals have been gaining momentum relentlessly, putting the Vatican on the defensive.

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.

In Sunday's Easter message, the pontiff also called for a "true exodus" from conflict in the Middle East, "the land sanctified by (Jesus') death and resurrection," urging "a true and definitive 'exodus' from war and violence to peace and concord" in the Middle East.

Condemning persecution and lamenting the "suffering" of Christian minorities, Benedict said: "May the Risen Lord sustain the Christians who suffer persecution and even death for their faith, as for example in Pakistan."

He added: "To the Christian communities who are experiencing trials and sufferings, especially in Iraq... Peace be with you!"

Benedict also called for an end to conflicts in Africa, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria, and condemned "a dangerous resurgence of crimes linked to drug trafficking" in Latin America and the Caribbean.

He also offered solace to the people of Haiti and Chile following the massive earthquakes in their countries.

As tradition dictates, the pontiff ended with greetings in 65 languages including Mongolian, Icelandic, and Aramaic, the language of Jesus still spoken in parts of the Middle East and Turkey, addressed to millions watching live broadcasts of the speech around the world.

Date created : 2010-04-04


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