VATICAN CITY — The pope celebrates Easter mass and makes his traditional Urbi et Orbi message "to the city and the world" Sunday with the Catholic Church shaken internationally by paedophile scandals.
As Christians prepared to celebrate the day when Christ is believed to have been resurrected, the top bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the church's role in covering up child abuse within its ranks.
And in the United States, fresh allegations emerged in court documents late Saturday that a cardinal there had reassigned a US priest and alleged child molester in the 1990s without warning his parishioners.
US Cardinal William Levada, a staunch defender of Pope Benedict XVI in the abuse scandal gripping the Vatican, was cited in court documents from an action brought by victims of paedophile priests.
In sworn testimony in 2006 about his time as archbishop of Portland, Oregon (1986-1995), Levada said he had reassigned a priest implicated in child abuse allegations after he had undergone therapy.
In the testimony, Levada was asked if he had warned parishioners about the Oregon priest's past. Levada answered no, although he had fully briefed the pastor of the parish and assigned him as the priest's supervisor.
A transcript of Levada's testimony was provided to AFP by a lawyer representing victims of child abuse by Oregon priests.
Belgium's Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, criticised the church for its past mismanagement of the crisis.
"With a guilty silence, it often gave preference to the reputation of certain men of the Church over the honour of the abused children," said an advance copy of his Easter sermon.
His Easter homily cited a recent letter by Pope Benedict XVI to Catholics in Ireland apologising for abuse there as an example of what needed to be done.
Germany's Archbishop Robert Zollitsch wrote in his Easter message: "Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church's dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides."
The message, on his diocese website, added: "The Church must not be inactive: we need a new beginning."
But the scandal has been gaining momentum, putting the Vatican on the defensive, with Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher drawing criticism on Saturday for likening attacks on the pontiff to anti-Semitism.
Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests condemned Father Raniero Cantalamessa for quoting the comments, which he said were made in a letter from a Jewish friend, in his Good Friday sermon.
The Vatican distanced itself from the very comments, but defended the preacher's intentions.
"Comparing the attacks on the pope for the paedophile scandal with anti-Semitism is not the line that is followed by the Holy See," spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
But the row cast another shadow over what is supposed to be the most joyous day in the Christian calendar, marking the resurrection of Christ.
The child abuse scandal has unleashed harsh critiques of the Roman Catholic Church's handling of the scourge -- even from other top religious leaders.
Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans, apologised for comments recorded during the week in which he said the Irish Catholic Church had lost "all credibility".Related article:Anglican leader regrets Irish Catholic comments
Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, said he was "stunned" by Williams's comments.
The pope himself faces allegations that, as archbishop of Munich and later as the Vatican's chief morals enforcer, he helped to protect predator priests.
Leading prelates have rallied around the pope, and the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano has published messages of support from around the world.
In its Sunday edition, the newspaper denounced the "slanderous attacks and the defamation campaign surrounding the drama of abuse by priests."
It cited the archbishop of Paris, Andre Vingt-Trois, calling it "an offensive aiming to destabilise the pope and through him the Church."
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