Church in the World
Vatican rallies to defend the PopeRobert Mickens and Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
- 10 April 2010
Top Vatican officials and a number of leading bishops worldwide have rallied to the defence of Pope Benedict XVI as he faces increased allegations about his handling of clergy sexual-abuse cases while he was a cardinal.
But several diocesan bishops confessed their sorrow and shame that the Church had covered up complaints of abuse in homilies during Holy Week. They included Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and the most senior clerics in Germany, Ireland and Britain.
In Rome as new charges of Vatican sex-abuse cover-up emerged, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, praised Pope Benedict at the beginning of Easter Day Mass in St Peter’s Square, calling him “the untiring rock of the Holy Church of Christ” and promising him the full support of all Catholics around the world.
“Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment,” the former Secretary of State said in a tribute to the soon-to-be 83-year-old Pope before the liturgy began. “Happy Easter, Sweet Christ on Earth! The Church is with you!” Cardinal Sodano, 82, said to the applause of some 100,000 people who braved wind and rain to attend the nearly three-hour-long outdoor ceremony.
At the end of the Easter Mass, Pope Benedict gave his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing and message, saying the world was “in deep crisis”. But he said nothing of the Church’s own sex-abuse crisis relating to decisions it is alleged he took when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The latest case was triggered by lawyers in Tuscon, Arizona, who revealed documents showing it took the CDF 12 years to satisfy an American bishop’s request in 1992 for the defrocking of a priest, Michael Teta, who molested two boys of seven and nine in the confessional. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi called the accusations “absolutely groundless”. Teta was laicised in 2004.
The preacher of the papal household, Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, broached the abuse issue during the annual Good Friday service in St Peter’s Basilica. He quoted what he said was a letter from a Jewish friend who expressed “indignation” at “the violent and concentric attacks” against the Pope and the Church, that reminded the friend of “the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”, Fr Cantalamessa said, quoting the letter. Jewish groups reacted angrily and Fr Cantalamessa later apologised, saying he meant no offence.
The most articulate defence of Pope Benedict came from Cardinal William Levada, who succeeded the Pope as Prefect of the CDF in 2005. He blasted The New York Times for going into “attack mode” and criticised its reporting and editorials as “deficient beyond any reasonable standards of fairness”. In a 30 March statement released by the Vatican, the cardinal criticised a report claiming that the Pope, while still head of the CDF, did not defrock a Milwaukee priest who abused more than 200 deaf children. Cardinal Levada said the article wrongly “attributed the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of diocesan decisions at the time”.
Cardinal Levada, 73, also came under scrutiny last week for his own record in handling clergy-abuse cases while he was archbishop in Portland, Oregon (1986-95) and in San Francisco (1995-05). Lawyer Jeffrey Anderson released documents on Easter Monday that sought to show Cardinal Levada had failed to act after a Minnesota bishop pleaded with him in 2006 to dismiss an abusing priest from the clerical state.
In Italy, the lawyer Sergio Cavaliere this week told the left-leaning newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano that authorities have arrested, investigated or convicted 130 priests for sexually abusing minors over the last two years.
In a special service of Lament and Reconciliation at St Stephen’s Cathedral, the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, read out a dramatic confession of the Church’s guilt over clerical sex abuse. While in Germany, the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, on Good Friday said the Church had not done enough for the victims but was now determined to make a new start.
The hotline for sexual abuse in the German Church, initiated by the bishops’ conference just before Easter, received more than 13,000 calls in the first three days that it opened. In Britain, Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff talked of “dark days” for the Church, while Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, in a homily on Easter Sunday, spoke of priests’ “serious sins” against children.