Pope Benedict XVI sees the clerical sex scandals as a "test for him and the church", his spokesman said today, as bishops around Europe used Holy Week's solemn call for penitence to pledge transparency in dealing with the abuse of children.
Swiss bishops urged victims to consider filing criminal complaints; German bishops opened a hotline for victims; Danish bishops launched an inquiry into decades-old claims; and Austria's senior cleric, Cardinal Christophe Schoenborn, admitted church guilt as he presided over a service for victims billed as a sign of repentance.
"Thank you for breaking your silence," Cardinal Schoenborn told the victims. "A lot has been broken open. There is less looking away. But there is still a lot to do."
A week after Benedict criticised Irish bishops for gross errors of judgment in handling cases of priests who raped children, European bishops, one after another, admitted to mistakes, reached out to victims and promised to act when they learned about abuse.
Their mea culpas and pledges to be more open and co-operative with police echoed American bishops' initial responses when the US priest-abuse scandal emerged in 2002.
They come amid mounting public outrage over a new wave of abuse claims across Europe and what victims say has been a pattern of cover-up by bishops and the Vatican itself.
They were all announced during the most solemn week of the church's liturgical calendar.
The Swiss bishops noted yesterday that Holy Week was a period of penance, when the faithful were supposed to admit their guilt, examine wrongdoing, find ways to improve and ask God and people for forgiveness.
Benedict himself was experiencing a Holy Week of "humility and penitence", Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said.
Asked how Benedict was responding to the scandal swirling around the Vatican, Mr Lombardi replied: "The Pope is a person of faith. He sees this as a test for him and the church."
Mr Lombardi stressed that the 82-year-old pontiff was fine physically during the gruelling Holy Week schedule.
Benedict will celebrate an evening Holy Thursday service today in which he will wash the feet of 12 priests in a symbol of humility. The service commemorates Jesus' washing the feet of his apostles before the Last Supper.
After presiding over the Good Friday Way of the Cross commemoration at Rome's torchlit Coliseum, Benedict will celebrate a late-night Easter Vigil on Saturday and then Easter on Sunday, when the faithful commemorate Jesus' resurrection - a time of rebirth and renewal.