Catholic Hierarchy Rallies Around Pope on Easter


Catholic Hierarchy Rallies Around Pope on Easter

Published: April 4, 2010

VATICAN CITY — A prominent cardinal, in a marked departure from Easter Mass tradition at the Holy See, stood before Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday and delivered a very public show of support in the face of growing anger over the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal — a topic that the pope stayed resolutely aloof from in his Easter appearances.

The remarks by the prelate, Angelo Sodano, a former secretary of state and the dean of the college of cardinals, came among a chorus of denunciations by church officials of what they have framed as a campaign of denigration of the church and its pontiff. 

Shortly before the Mass started, with thousands of pilgrims filling a rain-swept St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Sodano offered special greetings to the pope, wished him a happy Easter and said the bishops and 400,000 priests around the world stood by him.

“Holy Father, the people of God are with you, and do not let themselves be impressed by the gossip of the moment, by the challenges that sometimes strike at the community of believers,” Cardinal Sodano said. Jesus spoke of courage in the face of tribulations, the cardinal continued, and referred to the apostle Peter’s account of Jesus during the passion: “When he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”

Benedict rose to greet Cardinal Sodano with an embrace, clasping his shoulders warmly and shaking his hand. Vatican observers said they could not recall such an appearance in past Easter celebrations in St. Peter’s.

Shortly after the Mass, Benedict took to the balcony and delivered his annual “Urbi et Orbi” — “To the City and to the World” — address, making no mention of the scandal but touching on the world’s trials and troubled places: the Middle East, Christian communities in Iraq and Pakistan, drug trafficking in Latin America, the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and conflicts in Africa.

“May the saving power of Christ’s resurrection fill all of humanity,” Benedict said, “so that it may overcome the multiple tragic expressions of a ‘culture of death’ which are becoming increasingly widespread.”

The church hierarchy, from local bishops to the cardinals who run the church to Vatican officials, have grown increasingly aggressive in lashing back at sweeping criticism of the church, and more pointedly, at charges that Benedict failed to act strongly enough — both as a bishop in his native Germany and as leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before coming pope — against pedophile priests. The congregation had overall responsibility for such cases starting in 2001, and selectively before that. Benedict became pope in 2005.

The divide between the church and its critics, who include victims’ rights advocates and lawyers, editorial voices and even the archbishop of Canterbury, has widened in the past two weeks, in the week of continuing disclosures about a history of molestation of children by priests in parishes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and France.

Leading the charge has been the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which on Sunday published a summary of comments over Easter weekend in support of Benedict from bishops around the world. The headlines said Benedict was the target of “crude propaganda” and a “base defamatory operation.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the archbishop of Mexico City, said Benedict was facing “defamation and attacks of lies and vileness because of a few dishonest and criminal priests.” Lima’s archbishop, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, said the church’s enemies have mistreated the pope with “with an unusual lack of respect for the truth and an incredible show of cynicism.” Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, cited an “offensive that aims at destabilizing the pope, and through him, the church.” Carding Vingt-Trois said such an offensive “should not hide our failings and our eventual errors.”

The closing of ranks notably included a sermon delivered before the pope on Good Friday by the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, who equated the criticism of the church over the priest sex abuse scandal with anti-Semitism, antagonizing both victims’ groups and Jewish leaders. That appeared to go too far. The Vatican’s official spokesman disassociated the Holy See and the pope from the sentiment, and Father Cantalamessa backtracked in an interview published Sunday in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“If, against every intention, I hurt the feelings of Jews and victims of pedophilia, I am truly sorry and apologize, reaffirming my solidarity with both,” he said. Rather than showing hostility toward the Jews, he said his intention was to make a friendly gesture. Father Cantalamessa went on to say that the pope had nothing to do with the speech, but pointed out that someone in the Vatican had asked to see the text beforehand.

Benedict spoke out forcefully against the abuse of minors by priests in a letter to the bishops of Ireland issued on March 20, calling them to account and announcing a Vatican inquiry into church structures there. Churchmen have said that letter, a detailed and strongly worded document, should be taken as a broader statement about the issue.


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