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Pope: Church Weathers ‘Times of Difficulty’ Over Abuse Scandal

April 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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With growing controversy over Pope Benedict's role in punishing priests accused of misconduct, Margaret Warner reports on the reaction of Catholics in the U.S. to the sex abuse scandal.
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JEFFREY BROWN: But first: the pope’s response to the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: On a soggy Sunday in Rome, thousands of the faithful celebrated Easter mass in Saint Peter’s Square.

But amid the age-old ritual came a break with tradition. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, issued a ringing tribute to Pope Benedict XVI, lauding him as the unfailing rock of the Catholic Church. And Sodano dismissed allegations about the pope’s alleged role in the church’s sexual abuse scandal.

CARDINAL ANGELO AODANO, dean, college of cardinals (through translator): Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials which sometimes buffet the community of believers.

MARGARET WARNER: For his part, Pope Benedict didn’t address the allegations swirling around him. Yesterday’s service followed four months of revelations of sex abuse by priests throughout Europe, from Ireland to Germany, Italy and elsewhere, and of a pattern of covering up by church authorities.

In addition, questions have been raised about two cases Benedict himself was involved in, in the years before he was pope. In 1980, as Archbishop Ratzinger of Munich, Germany, he was involved in the decision to move a priest, Peter Hullermann, into therapy after he had been accused of sexually abusing minors.

At issue is whether Ratzinger was also involved in letting Hullermann return to pastoral duties within weeks. The priest ultimately was convicted of other sexual abuse charges in 1986.

A second case involves Father Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee. He was accused of sexually abusing nearly 200 deaf boys from the 1950s to the 1970s. Murphy was put on trial by the U.S. church, but he appealed to the Vatican office in charge of abuse cases, run by then Cardinal Ratzinger. The Vatican halted the trial in 1998, and Murphy died that same year.

Jeff Anderson represents many of Father Murphy’s alleged victims. He spoke today in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

JEFF ANDERSON, attorney for alleged victims: My feeling about the Vatican is that they’re the ones that are responsible for — responsible for complicity in these crimes. I feel very strongly that we have a moral and legal imperative to pursue them to hold them accountable.

MARGARET WARNER: Increasingly, the Vatican has responded to criticism of those cases by framing them as attacks on the pontiff and the Catholic faith itself.

On Good Friday, the pope’s personal preacher compared the current atmosphere to — quote — “collective violence used against the Jewish people.” He later voiced regret for his words. And the top Vatican official in charge of church doctrine, Cardinal William Levada, said last week there’s a coordinated assault on the church and the pope.

But some high church officials said the Vatican must do more to come to grips with the allegations.

CARDINAL KEITH O’BRIEN, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland: Crimes against children have indeed been committed. And any Catholics who are aware of such crimes and didn’t act to report them bring shame on us all.

MARGARET WARNER: The Vatican announced today it is cooperating with U.S. efforts to extradite an Indian priest. He’s accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Minnesota.