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Pope Leads Followers into Holy Week

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Pope Benedict XVI led tens of thousands of worshippers in a special mass in St. Peter's Square on Palm Sunday - the start of Holy Week commemorating the last days in the life of Jesus Christ.  But, this year the Catholic Church faces a crisis amid growing allegations of sexual abuse by priests and a cover up by the Church.

By mid-day the vast square in front of St. Peter's Basilica was packed with people.  Some had come to watch the spectacle of the outdoor Palm Sunday mass; but for most this was a unique opportunity to celebrate the beginning of holy week alongside the Church hierarchy, including the Pope.

But this year the Roman Catholic Church is facing a growing crisis amid a flood of accusations of sexual abuse of children by priests over the decades and allegations of a cover up by senior clergy.

And the scandal has reached all the way to the top - to the time when the Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was Archbishop of Munich and when he then headed the Vatican's main doctrine office.  Questions have been raised about his handling of sex abuse cases and whether he had a role in keeping them quiet.  The Vatican says he had acted properly.

Pope Benedict has spoken out publicly about the scandal in Ireland in a letter to the faithful in which he criticized Irish bishops for their handling of such cases.  

But it is time for full transparency says Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the Catholic weekly, the Tablet.

"We have heard victims ask for the release of all the records that they have in their files, because not all of them have been made available to civil authorities," he said.

Some of the worshippers in St. Peter's Square acknowledged the scandal would hurt the Church, but they seemed reluctant to be openly critical.

WORSHIPER: "Sure, I think it could hurt the Church, but I think people also make decisions about their faith and in some cases separate the Church and the actions of the human member of the Church from their faith."

A visitor from Spain echoed those sentiments.  He says there are so many priests and one should not judge them all by the actions of a small group.

For many Catholics, says Robert Mickens, that is not enough.

"I think that people want their church leaders not just to say they are sorry for others, for their predecessors or other bishops or priests around the world, but to take responsibility for the entire Church," he said.  "I think Pope Benedict XVI has got to say that he too has been, just like every other bishop, slow to come around to answering adequately this problem."

The Pope made no direct mention of the growing scandal during his Palm Sunday sermon.

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