The leader of New York's 2.5 million Catholics, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, said the church has experienced "another dose of shock, sorrow and even anger" amid a new sex abuse scandal, and he asked for prayers for Pope Benedict, who is facing one of the gravest crises of his pontificate over some the allegations.
Archbishop Dolan, in remarks at the conclusion of Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, asked the congregation for their patience as he addressed the scandal head-on. "The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year. The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again," he said.
Archbishop Dolan called the allegations of abuse "nauseating" and lead "the vast majority of faithful priests to bow their heads in shame."
He also took the chance to express unwavering support for Pope Benedict, who is facing allegations that he may have looked the other way in the case of abuse of deaf boys at a school in Wisconsin from the 1950s to 1960s. The Vatican has denied any cover-up after recent media reports said the accused priest was not defrocked although the case was made known to the Vatican and to the Church’s top doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.
Archbishop Dolan said the sorrow caused by the allegations of abuse is deepened by "the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself." "Certain sources see frenzied to implicate the man who, more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform and renewal the Church so needs," he said.
For his part, the 82-year-old pontiff led tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square Sunday morning at the start of Holy Week events commemorating the last days in the life of Jesus.
Though not addressing the scandal directly, Pope Benedict said faith in God helps lead one “towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion.”
Adding to last week's headlines rocking the 1.1 billion member Catholic Church, the Legion of Christ, a Catholic religious order whose late founder was revealed to have molested many young seminarians, for the first time formally apologized to his victims last week.
After years of defense, the Legion did an about-face Friday and fully repudiated founder Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008, two years after Pope Benedict forced him to retire to a "private life of penance and prayer."
The European epicenter of the scandal is Ireland, where two bishops have resigned over their handling of abuse cases from many years ago. There have been calls for the head of the Irish Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, to step down.
Addressing the latest round of accusations last week, a Vatican spokesman said the church "must acknowledge and make amends for" even decades-old cases. Meantime, an editorial in the Vatican newspaper denounced what it called "a smear campaign" to discredit Pope Benedict and his closest aides at all costs.