Pope's personal preacher offers defense of pontiff

Mar. 31: Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd in St. Peter's Square.

Mar. 31: Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd in St. Peter's Square.  (AP)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher is likening accusations against the pope and the church in the sex abuse scandal to "collective violence" suffered by the Jews.

The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said in a Good Friday sermon, with the pope listening to him in St. Peter's Basilica, that a Jewish friend has said the accusations remind him of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."

The remarks came in a prayer service at the Vatican a few hours before Benedict XVI was scheduled to take part in a Colosseum Way of the Cross procession commemorating Christ's suffering before his crucifixtion.

Thousands of Holy Week pilgrims were in St. Peter's Square as the church defends itself against accusations that Benedict had a role in covering up sex abuses cases.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pilgrims and tourists flocked to the Vatican ahead of Good Friday ceremonies as the Catholic church defends itself against accusations that Pope Benedict XVI played a role in covering up sex abuse cases.

The pope was scheduled to preside over a prayer service and listen to reflections from the papal household preacher in St. Peter's Basilica on Friday evening.

Hours later, thousands of faithful Catholics, clutching candles and prayer books, were expected to gather at the Colosseum to see the pope at night during at the traditional Way of the Cross procession commemorating Christ's crucifixion.

Amid reports of clerical sex abuse cases in several European countries, including Benedict's native Germany, the Vatican has fired back at the Western media, but the pope has not publicly addressed the crisis this week.

For pilgrims, the credibility crisis over the pope's record on combatting clergy abuse of minors didn't color their Holy Week activities in Rome.

Anne Rossier of Boston, Massachusetts, said the moment was "difficult" and that "lots of people have been turned against the church" but "we could not have been in a better place right now for Easter."

Boston was at the epicenter of sex abuse lawsuits and allegations that U.S. bishops in many dioceses shuffled pedophile priests from parish to parish instead of removing them from contact with the faithful. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, at the center of the storm, resigned as archbishop, to be assigned to a prestigious post in Rome by the late Pope John Paul II.

Tourists snapped photos and strolled through St. Peter's Square on a breezy, sunny day. Valeria Misuri, 38, from Livorno, Italy, studied a map in the square as she visited Rome with her family.

"I haven't let the recent scandals change how special this place is at this time for me," said Misuri. "The church is made up of men, and men have always erred and will always continue to do so."

Pointing heavenward, she said: "In the end, the conscience lies there."