Tuesday, March 30, 2010

John Cooney: Pope battles to maintain his authority

CATHOLIC churches in Ireland and around the world have celebrated Palm Sunday with a joyful re-enactment of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of their saviour, Jesus Christ.

From Bombay to Belmullet, from Lisbon to Lough Derg, Palm Sunday marked a solemn day in church worship, which had special fascination for children as they joined their parents in collecting olive branches.

But in the church calendar yesterday, joy was mixed with sorrow and repentance.

After the holy joy of the distribution of blessed palms, the liturgy took a sombre turn as the chants and readings in the long service related exclusively to the passion of Christ, which is recalled during Holy Week.

Holy Week highlights will include Maundy Thursday, popularly known as Christ's Last Supper with his apostles, which the church celebrates as originating the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

Good Friday will recall Christ's death by crucifixion to redeem humankind, culminating on Easter Sunday, with the Resurrection.

This year's Holy Week services are taking place against a global clerical child sex abuse crisis that is rapidly becoming the greatest challenge to the 2010-year-old Catholic Church.

In Rome yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI was battling to maintain his papal authority against the growing clamour to confess his central role in abuse scandal cover-ups in the American diocese of Wisconsin when he was Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Bavarian Pope is also under huge pressure to explain truthfully his role in permitting a known paedophile priest into active ministry with children in his then archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

In his Palm Sunday address, the Pontiff signalled to pilgrims, tourists and the faithful assembled in St Peter's Square that he would "not be intimidated" by accusations over the clerical sex abuse crisis. Jesus Christ "leads us towards courage which does not allow us to be intimidated by the chatter of dominant opinions, towards patience which supports and sustains others", he said.

While Pope Benedict made no specific reference to current accusations, Vatican watchers said he was referring to the worst week of his five-year pontificate that has put Curial cardinals and the Holy See's media spin doctors under massive public scrutiny.

Similarly, in Armagh, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, was still resisting calls for his resignation, which have refused to stay muted since he admitted that in 1975 he swore to secrecy under canon law the testimonies of two children who had been savagely abused by paedophile monk Brendan Smyth, who continued his predatory assaults on more children for 18 years.

To the further embarrassment of the embattled 70-year-old cardinal, he had to travel on Saturday evening to a parish to tell shocked Mass-goers that their parish priest had agreed to take leave from his ministry over child protection complaints to be investigated by police to establish his guilt or innocence.

The Armagh priest's removal, temporary or otherwise, came after it was revealed that the cardinal is defending five legal cases in his capacity as Archbishop of Armagh and 200 as Primate of All Ireland.

In a further blow to the cardinal, a 'Sunday Independent' poll showed that 76pc of readers said he should resign.

This poll, which echoes the initial public outrage two weeks ago, indicates that Cardinal Brady has failed in his campaign to rally support for his continuation in office as a "wounded healer".

The same poll produced a previously unthinkable shift in Irish public opinion towards a Pontiff -- with 51pc of readers saying Pope Benedict should resign.

German magazine 'Der Spiegel' has suggested Benedict might consider resigning over the abuse scandals, a call dismissed by Vatican officials.

The Vatican's line of defence overlooks the fact the criticisms are being led by victims of clerical abuse who are demanding justice and truth from Pope Benedict, demands supported by a broad sweep of Catholic laity across the globe.

As Holy Week 2010 unfolds, neither Pope Benedict nor Cardinal Brady yet know if their futures will end with a resurrection or a crucifixion.
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