Vatican City: The pope celebrates Easter mass and makes his traditional Urbi et Orbi message "to the city and the world" on Sunday with the Catholic Church shaken internationally by paedophile scandals.
As Christians prepared to celebrate the day when Christ is believed to have been resurrected, the top bishops in both Belgium and Germany issued forthright condemnations of the church`s role in covering up child abuse within its ranks.
And in the United States, fresh allegations emerged in court documents late Saturday that a cardinal there had reassigned a US priest and alleged child molester in the 1990s without warning his parishioners.
US Cardinal William Levada, a staunch defender of Pope Benedict XVI in the abuse scandal gripping the Vatican, was cited in court documents from an action brought by victims of paedophile priests.
In sworn testimony in 2006 about his time as archbishop of Portland, Oregon (1986-1995), Levada said he had reassigned a priest implicated in child abuse allegations after he had undergone therapy.
In the testimony, Levada was asked if he had warned parishioners about the Oregon priest`s past. Levada answered no, although he had fully briefed the pastor of the parish and assigned him as the priest`s supervisor.
Belgium`s Andre Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, criticised the church for its past mismanagement of the crisis.
"With a guilty silence, it often gave preference to the reputation of certain men of the Church over the honour of the abused children," said an advance copy of his Easter sermon.
His Easter homily cited a recent letter by Pope Benedict XVI to Catholics in Ireland apologising for abuse there as an example of what needed to be done.
Germany`s Archbishop Robert Zollitsch wrote in his Easter message: "Today particularly we must set out together and examine inconceivable events, awful crimes, the Church`s dark aspects as well as our shadowy sides."
The message, on his diocese website, added: "The Church must not be inactive: we need a new beginning."
But the scandal has been gaining momentum, putting the Vatican on the defensive, with Pope Benedict XVI`s personal preacher drawing criticism on Saturday for likening attacks on the pontiff to anti-Semitism.
Jewish groups and those representing victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests condemned Father Raniero Cantalamessa for quoting the comments, which he said were made in a letter from a Jewish friend, in his Good Friday sermon.
The Vatican distanced itself from the very comments, but defended the preacher`s intentions.
"Comparing the attacks on the pope for the paedophile scandal with anti-Semitism is not the line that is followed by the Holy See," spokesman Federico Lombardi said.