VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI opened Holy Week yesterday 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 Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of the crucifixion and death and resurrection on Easter Sunday.
This year, the most solemn week on the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar comes as a clerical abuse scandal has spread across Europe to the pope's native Germany.
In London, a few dozen people gathered outside Westminster Cathedral to demand the pope resign. The 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, the archbishop of Vienna announced the creation of a church-funded but independent nonclergy commission to look into 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 yesterday.
And in Switzerland, President Doris Leuthard told the weekly SonntagsZeitung that Switzerland should consider creating a central registry of pedophile priests to prevent their contact with more children.
Separately yesterday, a retired Italian cardinal and one-time candidate for the papacy said in comments published in the Austrian newspaper Die Presse that celibacy for priests should be reconsidered. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, former archbishop of Milan and considered one of the more liberal-leaning princes of the church, was quoted as saying that mandatory chastity for churchmen should be thought over to prevent further abuse cases by clergy and help the church regain lost trust.