Cardinal Tells Pope Benedict Not to Be Distracted by 'Idle Gossip'

By Paddy Agnew
Irish Times
April 5, 2010

VATICAN CITY -- WHILE POPE Benedict XVI made no reference to weekend tensions with Anglican and Jewish communities or to the ongoing clerical sex abuse crisis during Easter Sunday Mass in Rome yesterday, the service was marked by a vigorous defence of the pope by 80-year-old Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

"The whole church in chorus wants to say happy Easter to you, beloved Pope. The church is with you . . . the people of God are with you, and they will not be distracted by idle gossip," said Cardinal Sodano before the Mass.

In an apparent reference to international criticism of the church's handling of sex abuse offenders, Cardinal Sodano, who served as secretary of state for 15 years under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, added: "As you taught us last Holy Thursday, quoting St Peter, Jesus did not reply to insults with insults . . ."

Addressing the faithful in St Peter's Square, packed despite persistent rain, the pope called for prayers and solidarity for the Middle East, Iraq, Latin America, Haiti, Guinea, Nigeria and Pakistan, but made no reference to the crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church in recent months.

The pope's Easter Sunday Mass, which concluded with his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" greeting to the world in more than 60 languages, came after a shaky weekend for ecumenical and inter-faith relations.

Speaking at a Good Friday service in St Peter's Basilica, the preacher of the pontifical household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, had likened the ongoing attacks on the Catholic Church and the pope himself to the "collective violence" against Jews.

Even though Fr Cantalamessa subsequently apologised for any "misunderstandings" and even though senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi distanced the pope from his comments, pointing out that they did not represent the "official position of the Vatican", the incident sparked off a series of indignant replies from Jews worldwide.

"Shame on Fr Cantalamessa. The Vatican is entitled to defend itself, but the comparison with anti-Semitic persecution is offensive and unsustainable. We are sorely disappointed," said Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors.

Not only Jews but also victims of clerical sex abuse were highly critical of Fr Cantalamessa, with a spokesman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests saying: "It's heartbreaking to see yet another smart, high-ranking Vatican official making such callous remarks that insult both abuse victims and Jewish people."

The pope himself made no reference either to this polemic or to the tensions generated on Saturday by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams's claim in a BBC radio interview that the Catholic Church had lost "all credibility" in Ireland.

Many Vatican commentators saw Dr Williams's remarks as delayed "retaliation" against the Catholic Church following the Vatican's decision last October to create new ecclesiastical structures with which to welcome disaffected Anglican conservatives into the Catholic Church.

In a further sign of the mood in the Holy See, yesterday's edition of Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano carried an editorial which underlined how senior church figures all around the world had expressed their solidarity with Pope Benedict this Easter: "Messages of solidarity with Benedict XVI have been arriving from all round the world in response to the calumnious attacks and defamatory campaign that has been constructed around the drama of sex abuses committed by priests."

The editorial said that "no intimidation" would distract the church from its mission to seek truth.

The editorial quotes extracts from the Easter addresses of different cardinals in Europe and Latin America, with a typical comment being the following, from Chilean Cardinal Francesco Javier Errązuriz Ossa: "Certain media organisations are trying to sully the good name of the pope, accusing him of things for which he had no responsibility."


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