Sunday, April 4, 2010

Vatican dismisses child abuse scandal as 'petty gossip' as row overshadows Easter services

Vatican dismisses child abuse scandal as 'petty gossip' as row overshadows Easter services

Last updated at 1:39 PM on 04th April 2010

The Vatican defended the Pope today, insisting he would not be intimidated by 'petty gossip' about the child abuse scandal during a special Easter Sunday statement.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano gave a speech of solidarity at the start of the Easter service in Rome in what is believed to have been the first time in recent memory protocol at the ceremony has been changed.

'Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes assail the community of believers,' Sodano said.

He told the Pope 'the Church is with you' and hailed Benedict as a 'solid rock' that holds up the Church, prompting thousands in the rainy St Peter's Square to cheer.

Pope Benedict giving his traditional 'Urbi et Orbi' Easter message

Pope Benedict giving his traditional 'Urbi et Orbi' Easter message today

The senior cardinal also listed those who support the pope, particularly 'the 400,000 priests who generously serve' in schools, hospitals and missions around the world

The change in protocol shows how much pressure the Vatican is feeling over the scandal and claims of a possibly cover-up that have inched closer to Pope Benedict himself.

In his own Easter address hours later, Benedict looked weary at times and did not mention the scandal.

It came as senior clergy in the UK used their Easter sermons to acknowledge the guilt the Catholic Church feels and apologising on its behalf.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who yesterday sparked a storm for declaring the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost 'all credibility', steered clear of the row today.

Instead, he spoke about cases of 'bureaucratic silliness' over displays of religious symbols, such as nurse Shirley Chaplin who was asked to removed her crucifix necklace.

St Peter's Square

Thousands gathered in St Peter's Square for the service and cheered when a senior cardinal praised the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI embraces Cardinal Angelo Sodano
Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Angelo Sodano (left) hailed the Pope as a 'solid rock' in the Church in a strong defence by the Vatican

But the scandal overshadowed services elshewhere with Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols admitting 'serious sins' had been committed in the Catholic community.

'For our part, we have been reflecting on them deeply, acknowledging our guilt and our need for forgiveness. This is the journey of Holy Week. Indeed, to appreciate the message of this great Christian feast we have to begin with our own sin and shame,' he said.

Head of the Church in Scotland Cardinal Keith O'Brien said: 'Many evils have been committed throughout the world, particularly with regard to the sexual abuse of children and young people.

'I myself as long ago as 2002 indicated my own personal abhorrence of this terrible crime and said at that time that I apologised to anyone who has suffered any abuse at the hands of anyone representing the Catholic Church. I restate and reiterate that apology today.'

He added: 'Crimes against children have indeed been committed and any Catholics who were aware of such crimes and did not act to report them brings shame on us all.

'We can take no comfort from the fact that only a small percentage of priests committed such crimes - the impact of their sinful acts is very large - their actions harmed the lives of their victims, caused great hatred to be directed at their innocent brother priests and left ordinary Catholics demoralised and confused.

'One might say that there has been a great "public humiliation" of the Church, as in some way or another we realise that we have not been as alert as we should have been to the evils being perpetrated around us, whatever our particular position.

'Those involved in these crimes must apologise and ask forgiveness from those who have been offended as well as, of course, from Almighty God himself.'

He insisted: 'Whatever flaws or personal failings afflict them, it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of priests and politicians are honourable and honest - seeking to live out their beliefs and serve society around them.'

The Pope is helped up to the altar

The Pope is helped up to the altar for the Easter Mass

The Archbishop of Canterbury was forced to apologise last night for declaring that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland had lost ‘all credibility’ over the child abuse scandal.

The comments by Dr Rowan Williams provoked a furious backlash from Irish church leaders, who said they were ‘undeserved’ and ‘profoundly disheartening’.

His remarks also threatened to undermine relations between the Anglican and Catholic Churches in the run-up to the Pope’s visit to Britain in the autumn.

Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week, to be broadcast tomorrow, that recent revelations about clerical child abuse had been a ‘colossal trauma’ for the Catholic Church, particularly in Ireland.

Dr Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams avoided talking about the scandal in his Easter address today

In his first comments on the crisis gripping the Vatican, he said: ‘I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who said it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.

‘And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility -- that’s not just a problem for the Church, but for everybody in Ireland.’

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was stunned by Dr Williams’s ‘unequivocal and unqualified’ words.

‘As Archbishop of Dublin, I have been more than forthright in addressing the failures of the Catholic Church in Ireland. I still shudder when I think of the harm that was caused to abused children. I recognise that their Church failed them.

‘But I also journey with those -- especially parents and priests -- who work day by day to renew the Catholic Church in this diocese, and who are committed to staying with their Church and passing on the faith in wearying times.

‘Dr Williams’s comments will be for them immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further. But speaking frankly, I have to say that in all my years as Archbishop of Dublin in difficult times, I have rarely felt personally so discouraged as when I heard Archbishop Williams’s comments.’

Last night Dr Williams telephoned Archbishop Martin to express his ‘deep sorrow and regret’ for the ‘difficulties’ his remarks may have created.

The Diocese of Dublin said in a statement that Dr Williams had ‘affirmed that nothing could have been further from his intention than to offend or criticise the Irish Church’.

Lambeth Palace added: ‘The Archbishop had no intention of criticising or offending the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. The Church in Ireland continues to work tirelessly to deal with the scandal of abuse.’

And a Vatican source said: ‘The comments have been noted but there will be no tit-for-tat at Easter.’

The Catholic Church in Ireland has been deeply shaken by revelations that paedophile priests got away with decades of horrific child sex abuse.

Pressure mounted this month on its leader, the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, after he admitted being at a meeting where children abused by notorious convicted sex offender Fr Brendan Smyth were forced to take a vow of silence.

The abuse scandal has also engulfed Pope Benedict, who faced claims that he failed to investigate properly a serial abuser in a children’s home for the deaf in the American state of Wisconsin in the late Nineties.

The Church’s handling of abuse is likely to become a major issue during the Pope’s four-day visit to Britain in September, and Dr Williams’s comments will do nothing to dispel the controversy.

Speaking about the visit on the same programme, Dr Williams said it was important for the Pope to be given the chance to speak in Britain as a valued partner, but that was ‘about it’.

He also predicted that few disaffected Anglicans would take up Pope Benedict’s offer of conversion to Rome.

On Friday, the Pope’s personal preacher likened criticism of the Catholic Church over the sex abuse scandal to ‘collective violence’ suffered by the Jews.

Today, Father Raniero Cantalamessa apologised in an interview with an Italian newspaper.

'If - and it was not my intention to do so - I hurt the sensitivities of Jews and victims of paedophilia, I am truly sorry and I ask for forgiveness,' he said.

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