VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Easter Vigil yesterday as the Vatican newspaper denounced what it called a "vile defamation operation" against him concerning the clerical abuse scandal.

Benedict presided over evening service in St. Peter's Basilica, commemorating the night before Easter, when Christians believe Christ rose from the dead.

The pope didn't directly refer to the scandal in his homily. He focused on life, death and immortality, pondering what would happen if modern medicine could remove death altogether.

"Would that be a good thing?" he asked. "Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation," he said.

Rather than prolonging death, he said, baptism offers the "medicine of immortality."

During the service, Benedict baptized six people - a traditional feature of Easter eve papal Masses.

In an article, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano denounced Saturday what it called the "vile defamation campaign" against the pope and cited messages of solidarity that had arrived from bishops from around the world. The Vatican has accused the media of fanning the scandal by reporting on cases of priests who raped children and bishops who didn't report it to police or were stymied from pursuing church trials by the Vatican.

Benedict, who today celebrates Easter and delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" speech, hasn't made any explicit reference to the scandal since he released a letter to the Irish faithful concerning the abuse crisis in that country on March 20.

Latest videos

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months