Pope Benedict XVI marked the fifth anniversary of his election yesterday under the shadow of a clerical sex abuse scandal that has plunged the Catholic Church into its most serious crisis of recent times.
The Pope hosted a lunch at the Vatican with about 60 cardinals, who cheered and applauded him. Sitting next to him in the ornate Apostolic Palace were two of his closest aides, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and one of the Pope's most ardent defenders in the face of the scandal. Pope Benedict is leading the Church "with great generosity" in the face of "the challenges that the modern world poses to each disciple of Christ", Sodano said in an address to the pontiff, according to Vatican Radio.
The Pope has just returned from a two-day pilgrimage to Malta, where he had met privately with abuse victims. As part of the anniversary celebrations, the Italian bishops' conference has invited faithful in churches across Italy to pray for the Pope. Reports of cases of abuse of minors by priests have piled up across Europe, including in the Pope's native Germany, and elsewhere, and his own actions as an archbishop in Munich, and later as a cardinal at the helm of the Vatican morals office, have come under question.
Victims of clerical abuse have demanded that the Pope take more personal responsibility, charging that the Vatican orchestrated a culture of secrecy. The Vatican maintains that Pope Benedict, 83, has cracked down on sex abuse both as pontiff and in his tenure as a top cardinal.