In Rome, Benedict turns the other cheek

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The Independent Online

After beginning morning Mass by wafting incense in a purifying ritual around the central altar of St Peter's Basilica, a beleaguered Pope Benedict XVI yesterday launched into his homily during the Vatican's Holy Thursday service. But he made no direct mention of the paedophilia scandal that has rocked his Church. Instead the faithful heard a more oblique reference: "When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly," said the pontiff, citing Jesus's lesson in turning the other cheek.

But for a Church in which symbolism is so important, few can have failed to contemplate the significance of the pontiff's actions when he washed the feet of 12 priests, a traditional Easter demonstration of humility, during the Holy Thursday evening service at Rome's St John Lateran Basilica. The service commemorates Jesus's washing the feet of his 12 apostles before the Last Supper.

By stating in his pastoral letter to Irish Catholics on 21 March: "I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel", some church figures claimed the Pope had already gone as far as he could in admitting his own failings over the abuse scandal. Others say he must issue a more explicit admission of personal responsibility.

The Vatican's siege mentality must have further increased yesterday when Pietro Forno, the magistrate who heads Milan's child abuse investigations, lamented in a national newspaper that despite the many cases of clerical abuse he had investigated, not even one had been reported by a priest or bishop. Significantly, the magistrate's comments were given prominence in a long interview in Il Giornale, the family newspaper of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, suggesting that even the conservative government was in no mood to cover for the Church.

Today, 82-year-old Benedict will continue his hectic Easter schedule, presiding over the Good Friday Way of the Cross commemoration at Rome's torch-lit Coliseum. Tomorrow the Pontiff will celebrate a late-night Easter Vigil before finally leading Easter celebrations on Sunday, when the faithful commemorate Jesus' resurrection as a time of rebirth and renewal. His flock will no doubt be hoping for a rebirth of their Church – and praying that Benedict's response to a seismic scandal is not too little, too late.