Pope Benedict XVI kept silent on the pedophilia scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church during Easter Sunday addresses as Christians across the world marked the resurrection of Christ.
The leader of the world’s one billion Catholics condemned the persecution of Christian minorities in Iraq and Pakistan, but failed to mention escalating allegations of decades of child abuse by the Church’s priests.
The dean of the College of Cardinals however rallied around the embattled head of the Roman Catholic Church, telling him in a rain-drenched St Peter’s Square: “The people of God are with you and do not allow themselves to be impressed by the idle chatter of the moment.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano was echoing the pope’s words a week ago when he urged Christians “not be intimidated by the idle chatter of prevailing opinions”.
In Paris, the head of the Catholic Church in France, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, denounced a “smear campaign aimed at the pope”, who has come under personal scrutiny for failing to act against abusers in the past.
The French archbishop said it was Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, who “as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraged bishops to take action against pedophilia by systematically informing Rome of such cases.”
But the top bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the Church’s role in covering up for predator priests.
Belgium’s Andre Joseph Leonard said in his Easter homily the Church had mismanaged the crisis “with a guilty silence”.
Germany’s top archbishop, Robert Zollitsch, said separately: “Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church’s dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides.”
In Ireland — where the first cases of mass abuse were revealed — demonstrators tried to interrupt the Easter service at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral by placing shoes in honour of child abuse victims, state broadcaster RTE said.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was heckled by abuse survivors holding placards that read: “Hypocrites for Jesus. Catholic church rapes, abuses, destroys children and covers it up, covers it up, covers it up.”
British and Irish religious leaders meanwhile tried to heal wounds after the leader of the world’s Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the Catholic Church was “losing all credibility” in Ireland over charges it covered up clerical abuse.
The international scandal cast a shadow over what is meant to be the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, commemorating when Jesus Christ is believed to have been resurrected, but many continued their worship as usual.
In Jerusalem thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into the cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a candle-lit maze of chapels and crypts which is held to be the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial.
Incense filled the air as Western and Orthodox pilgrims packed into the centuries-old church shared uneasily by six denominations — Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.
Easter pilgrims defiant over abuse scandal
In St Peter’s Square the pope appealed in his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message for “a spiritual and moral conversion” of humankind to wrest it from “deep crisis”.
Benedict called for an end to African conflicts — in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria — and condemned “a dangerous resurgence” of drug trafficking crimes in Latin America and the Caribbean.
He also offered solace to the people of Haiti and Chile as they recover from massive earthquakes.
As tradition dictates, Benedict ended with greetings in 65 languages including Mongolian, Icelandic and Aramaic, the language of Jesus still spoken in parts of the Middle East and Turkey.
In the US capital, President Barack Obama attended an Easter service in one of Washington’s poorest communities, making an appearance with his wife and daughters at a historic black church founded during the American Civil War.
“God has His hand all over you,” Pastor Michael Bell said, referring to the US president. “Anyone would be foolish to come up against him.”