Pope admits Church 'wounded' by sins of the clergy
Pope Benedict XVI admitted that the Roman Catholic Church had been "wounded by our sins" as he landed in Malta.
Talking briefly on his plane (a turboprop which could fly from Rome with little threat from the volcanic ash cloud), Benedict did not specifically mention the scandal. But a Vatican spokesman said that it was to this that the Pope was alluding when he told reporters: "Malta loves Christ who loves his Church which is his body, even if this body is wounded by our sins."
Cheers erupted among crowds in Valletta, the island's capital, as screens showed the Pope's arrival at the airport.
Well-wishers stood among red-and-gold papal banners that lined stretches of his short drive into the city, whose 16th century baroque churches were draped in yellow-and-white Vatican flags.
Up to 50,000 people will attend today's open-air Mass.
But other Maltese seemed underwhelmed, even hostile, and contrasted him unfavourably with his charismatic predecessor, John Paul II.
"People are very aware of the sex abuse scandal hanging over him," said Darren Galea, 26, a chef. Catherine, 66, a housewife who asked that her surname not be used, said: "This visit is costing Malta a lot of money. Last week in church they were asking for contributions but I didn't give anything. The Vatican has more money than me."
The sex abuse scandals, which first surfaced in America and have recently swept through Europe, have also touched Malta. The Pope faces calls for an apology to 10 Maltese men, now in their 30s, who say they were abused by Catholic priests when they were growing up in a Church-run orphanage.
A police investigation has started but an internal Church inquiry which began seven years ago has yet to pronounce on the allegations. The Maltese Church disclosed recently that a paedophilia "response team" it set up in 1999 had received complaints against 45 priests, of which nearly half had so far been ruled groundless. The men said that an apology would help heal the emotional scars. "But we will only be really healed by seeing these priests go to jail."
Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, has said the Pope would not bow to "media pressure" to meet with abuse victims in Malta. This should be a happy weekend for Benedict, who celebrated his 83rd birthday on Friday and will commemorate the fifth anniversary of his election to the Holy See tomorrow. Instead, assailed by accusations that he himself protected known abusers as the archbishop of Munich in the 1980s and in Vatican posts before his election as Pope, he faces continued fire.
His stewardship of the world's one billion Catholics was recently declared a "failed papacy" by Der Spiegel.
Spanish media were yesterday quoting a retired Vatican cardinal as saying the late Pope John Paul II backed his letter congratulating a French bishop for risking jail for shielding a priest convicted of raping minors.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 80, told an audience at a Catholic university in Murcia, Spain, on Friday that he consulted with John Paul II and showed him the letter. He claimed the pontiff authorised him to send the letter to bishops worldwide.
The 2001 letter praised Bishop Pierre Pican, who received a three-month suspended prison sentence for concealing knowledge about the clergyman.
The priest himself was sentenced to 18 years for sexually abusing 11 minors.
"After consulting the Pope, I wrote a letter to the bishop congratulating him as a model of a father who does not hand over his sons," the cardinal told the conference to applause from the assembled priests and lay people.