A Cardinal has sparked outrage among victims' groups by dismissing the clerical sex abuse scandal as “the petty gossip of the moment”.
The cardinal strongly defended Pope Benedict, saying that the church would not be intimidated by “petty gossip” about sexual abuse of children by priests before he warmly embraced the Pontiff.
In his own Easter address hours later, the Pope, looking at times weary, did not mention the scandal that has engulfed the church and posed a crisis in his five-year-old pontificate.
The surprise speech by Dr Sodano was the first time in recent memory that the ritual of a papal Easter Sunday Mass was changed so someone could address the Pope at the start.
“The people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the pettygossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes assail the community of believers,” Dr Sodano said.
The change of protocol underscored just how much the Vatican is feeling the pressure from a growing scandal concerning sexual abuse of children by priests and reports of a possible cover-up that have inched closer to the Pope himself.
Later, the Pope did not mention the scandal in his twice-yearly “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) address, which touched on a series of world problems.
The cardinal praised Pope Benedict as the “solid rock” and said “The church is with you” to the cheers of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
His speech of solidarity listed those who support the Pope, particularly “the 400,000 priests who generously serve” in schools, hospitals and missions around the world. This was a clear attempt to underscore the Vatican's position that only a tiny minority of priests have abused children.
But victims said they were disappointed.
“Lofty statements from Vatican officials do not change the facts,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
“Deeply wounded victims and our family members need comfort and healing, but instead receive reprimands and insults.
“When we speak up and tell how our childhood innocence was shattered by sexual assaults by priests it is not ‘petty gossip',” she said.
Easter has been clouded by weeks of accusations that the church in several countries mishandled and covered up abuse of children by priests, sometimes for decades.