Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Sunday, 4 April 2010 13:44 UK

Catholic Cardinal rejects sex abuse 'gossip'

Pope speaks of 'profound crisis'

A senior cardinal has said the Roman Catholic faithful will not be swayed by "petty gossip" about child sex-abuse allegations.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, made the remark in an unusual message of support to Pope Benedict XVI during Easter Mass.

The Pope did not mention the scandal directly in his Easter address.

He said humanity was suffering from a "profound crisis" and needed "spiritual and moral conversion".

Meanwhile, the Pope's personal preacher has apologised for comparing criticism of the Catholic Church over child abuse to "collective violence suffered by the Jews" in a Good Friday sermon.

Easter doesn't work magic
Pope Benedict XVI

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper that he had only meant to point to "the use of stereotype and the easy passage from individual to collective guilt".

Allegations of abuse - many dating back decades - have put pressure on the Church recently in many countries, including the Pope's native Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria, and the US.

The Church has persisted in playing down the developing scandal provoked by the allegations, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

'Humanity's crisis'

During Easter Mass in St Peter's Square, Cardinal Sodano expressed solidarity with the Pope, who has himself come under scrutiny for his role in handling past cases of abuse.

"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," the cardinal said.

David Willey
David Willey, BBC News, Rome

The Pope seems uncertain how to deal with a crisis of confidence unparalleled in modern times.

The Vatican's public relations strategy so far has been to blame the media - particularly the foreign media - for exaggerating the problem.

Many bishops have rallied to support the Pope and his policies for dealing with paedophile priests, although some are openly demanding greater humility and transparency from the Church.

The Vatican has in the past consistently played down the extent of clerical paedophilia.

Its spokesman has been engaged in a major damage control operation. He has to try to convince the world that policies now in place are adequate to tackle the problem and ensure that clerics who commit these crimes are properly tried in the civil courts as well as punished by Church authorities.

His remarks echoed comments made a week earlier by Pope Benedict.

With the Church already under pressure over the abuse allegations, the Pope said his faith would help give him the courage to deflect "petty gossip".

In his Easter "Urbi et Orbi" address, the Pope said the salvation of the Gospel was needed "to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences".

After offering prayers for victims of crime, conflict and natural disasters around the world, he added:

"Easter doesn't work magic... After the resurrection the Church always finds history filled not only with joy and hope but also with grief and anguish."

Pope Benedict has not made any explicit comment on the issue since he penned a letter apologising for child-abuse in the Irish Church late last month.

The pontiff has been accused personally of failing to take action against a suspected abuser during his tenure as archbishop of Munich - a claim the Vatican strongly denies.

Critics also say that when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases, he did not act against a priest in the US state of Wisconsin who is thought to have abused some 200 deaf boys.

The Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, stepped up its defence of the Pope in its Sunday edition, publishing messages of support from around the world and denouncing the "slanderous attacks and the defamation campaign surrounding the drama of abuse by priests".

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