- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2010

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 Sonntags Zeitung 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.

“It doesn’t make any difference if the perpetrators are from the secular or spiritual world. Both violate Swiss law,” she said. “It’s important that pedophile priests, like teachers and other guardians, don’t come into contact with children.”

Cardinal Schoenborn, a close Benedict confidant, defended the pope against suggestions that he was behind church cover-ups, including for Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer. The Austrian church was rocked by accusations in 1995 that Cardinal Groer molested youths at a monastery in the 1970s.

Cardinal Schoenborn replaced Cardinal Groer as archbishop in 1995; but it wasn’t until 1998 that, on Vatican orders, Cardinal Groer relinquished all religious duties and sought exile in Germany. He died in Austria in 2003. At the time, the Vatican drew sharp criticism from many Austrians for taking three years to act. Disgust over how the case was handled has been cited as contributing to the exodus of disaffected Austrians from the church.

Cardinal Schoenborn said then-Cardinal Ratzinger had immediately pushed for an investigative commission when abuse accusations against Cardinal Groer arose. However, others in the Vatican - described by Cardinal Schoenborn as the “diplomatic track” - did not let this happen.

“I can still very clearly remember the moment when Cardinal Ratzinger sadly told me that the other camp had asserted itself,” Cardinal Schoenborn told ORF. “To accuse him of being someone who covers things up - having known the pope for many years, I can say that is certainly not true.”

Benedict has only publicly spoken about the scandal in Ireland, writing a letter to the Irish faithful last week in which he chastised Irish bishops for leadership shortcomings and errors in judgment for failing to apply church law to stop abusive priests.

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