Pope opens Holy Week as crisis in Church deepens

POPE Benedict XVI opened Holy Week yesterday amid one of the most serious crises facing the church in decades, with questions about his handling of cases of paedophile priests and the Vatican acknowledging its “moral credibility” was on the line.

Benedict made no mention of the scandal in his Palm Sunday homily. But one of the prayers, recited in Portuguese during Mass, was “for the young and for those charged with educating them and protecting them.”

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and is the start of the church’s Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

This year, the most solemn week on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar has been stained by a clerical abuse scandal that has spread across Europe to the pope’s native Germany.

The Vatican has been on the defensive amid mounting questions about the Pope’s handling of sex abuse cases, both when he was archbishop of Munich and when he headed the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was Munich archbishop when a priest was allowed to resume pastoral work with children even while receiving therapy for paedophilia. He was subsequently convicted of abusing minors.

In addition, a case has come to light in which Ratzinger’s deputy at the congregation told Wisconsin bishops to squash a church trial for a priest alleged to have abused up to 200 deaf boys.

The Vatican insists Ratzinger was unaware of the Munich priest’s move to the pastoral job and has defended its handling of the Wisconsin case.

Benedict has only publicly spoken out about the scandal in Ireland, writing a letter to the faithful last week in which he chastised Irish bishops for shortcomings in leadership and errors in judgment for failing to apply church law to stop abusive priests.

During his homily yesterday, the Pope directed himself to young people, as Palm Sunday is traditionally dedicated to the young.

On Saturday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, acknowledged that the way the church responds to the abuse scandal is “crucial for its moral credibility.”

Separately yesterday, a retired Italian cardinal and one-time candidate for the papacy, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said in comments published in the Austrian newspaper Die Presse that celibacy for priests should be reconsidered.

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