Turin: Pope Benedict XVI is taking a break from dealing with the clerical sex abuse scandal to visit the Shroud of Turin, the linen with an image of a man on it that some believe is Christ`s burial cloth and others dismiss as a medieval fake.
Benedict arrived on Sunday in the northern city of Turin, where he will spend the day celebrating Mass, meeting with young people and the infirm, and then praying before the Shroud, one of the most important relics in Christianity.
The 14-foot-long, 3.5-foot-wide (4.3-meter-long, 1 meter-wide) cloth has gone on public display for the first time since the 2000 Millennium celebrations and a subsequent 2002 restoration. Kept in a bullet-proof, climate-controlled case in Turin`s cathedral, it has drawn some 1.5 million reservations from pilgrims and tourists eager to spend three to five minutes viewing it.
Benedict`s visit is a bit of a respite from meetings with bishops to discuss resignations from inside their ranks over sex abuse by priests of children and the bishops` failure to report it to civil authorities. In the past week, Benedict met with German bishops to discuss one high-profile resignation and he has another such meeting planned on Monday with Belgian bishops.
In between, he met with five Vatican investigators who reported on an eight-month probe into the Legionaries of Christ; the Vatican announced Saturday that Benedict would appoint a personal delegate to lead the discredited order and reform it after revelations that its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least one child.
While the visit to Turin is a break of sorts, it`s not without its own controversies: The Vatican has tiptoed around the issue of just what the Shroud of Turin is, calling it a powerful symbol of Christ`s suffering while making no claim to its authenticity.
A Vatican researcher said late last year that faint writing on the linen, which she studied through computer-enhanced images, proves the cloth was used to wrap Jesus` body after his crucifixion.
But experts stand by carbon-dating of scraps of the cloth that determine the linen was made in the 13th or 14th century in a kind of medieval forgery. That testing didn`t explain how the image on the shroud — of a man with wounds similar to those suffered by Christ — was formed.
However, some have suggested the dating results might have been skewed by contamination and called for a larger sample to be analyzed.
When Pope John Paul II visited the Shroud during a 1998 display, he said its mystery forces questions about faith and science and whether it really was Christ`s burial shroud. But he said the church had "no specific competence to pronounce on these questions" and urged continuous study.