Vatican City Pope Benedict XVI opened Holy Week on Sunday amid one of the most serious crises facing the church in decades, with protesters in London demanding he resign and calls in Switzerland for a central registry for pedophile priests.
Benedict made no direct mention of the scandal in his Palm Sunday homily. But one of the prayers, recited in Portuguese during Mass, was “for the young and for those charged with educating them and protecting them.”
Jesus Christ, Benedict said in his homily, guides the faithful “toward the courage that doesn’t let us be intimidated by the chatting of dominant opinions, towards patience that supports others.”
Palm Sunday commemorates Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and is the start of the church’s Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
This year, the most solemn week on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar has been stained by a clerical abuse scandal that has spread across Europe to the pope’s native Germany.
In London on Sunday, a few dozen people gathered outside Westminster Cathedral to demand the pope resign. Demonstrators carried placards saying “Pope? Nope!” and “Don’t Turn a Blind Eye.”
Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols insisted the pope wouldn’t — and shouldn’t — quit. “In fact, it is the other way around,” he told BBC television. “He is the one above all else in Rome that has tackled this thing head-on.”
In Austria, where several cases have come out in recent weeks, the archbishop of Vienna announced the creation of a church-funded but clergy-free and independent commission to look into Austrian abuse claims.
It will be run by a woman, the former governor of Styria province, and is not meant to take the place of a possible state-run investigative commission, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn told public broadcaster ORF on Sunday.
And in Switzerland, Swiss President Doris Leuthard told the weekly SonntagsZeitung that Switzerland should consider creating a central registry of pedophile priests to prevent them from coming into contact with more children.
Church leaders say about 60 people have reported to be victims of priest abuse in Switzerland.
The Vatican has been on the defensive amid mounting questions about the pope’s handling of sex abuse cases both when he was archbishop of Munich and when he headed the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was Munich archbishop when a priest was allowed to resume pastoral work with children even while receiving therapy for pedophilia. He was subsequently convicted of abusing minors. In addition, a case has come to light in which Ratzinger’s deputy at the Congregation told Wisconsin bishops to quash a church trial for a priest alleged to have abused up to 200 deaf boys.
The Vatican insists Ratzinger was unaware of the Munich priest’s move to the pastoral job and has defended its handling of the Wisconsin case.