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Rally for pope to be 'bigger than expected'

Deadline extended for attending June 9-11 event

26 April, 16:46
Rally for pope to be 'bigger than expected' (ANSA) - Vatican City, April 26 - A three-day rally of priests in St Peter's next month to show support for Pope Benedict XVI for his handling of sex abuse scandals will be bigger than expected, the Vatican said Monday.

Demand to be at the June 9-11 event has surprised organisers who have decided to extend the deadline for attendance applications until May 17, said the Congregation for the Clergy, the Vatican department which regulates clerical life.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the head of the department, has urged priests to turn out in force on the last three days of the Year of Priests to show "solidarity, support, confidence and unconditional communion in the face of frequent attacks on (the pope)".

The Brazilian cardinal said the accusations against the pontiff were "obviously unjust," adding: "no one has done as much as Benedict to condemn and properly combat such crimes".

Child sex abuse scandals have hit the Catholic Church in the United States, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Critics have accused the pope of failing to take proper action when he was head of the doctrinal office that deals with paedophilia cases.

The Vatican has said Benedict, on the contrary, made it easier to punish offenders as well as preventing paedophiles from becoming priests.

Benedict, 83, became pope five years ago after serving for 24 years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Shortly before his election in 2005 he vowed to clean out what he called "filth" from the Church.

The pontiff has met with victims of paedophile priests in the US, Australia and, most recently, Malta where he is said to have wept as he prayed with them.

At Easter he sent a pastoral letter to Ireland expressing his "shame" over decades of abuse and cover-ups there.

Benedict has accepted the resignations of three Irish bishops while another three have tendered their resignations.

Belgium's longest-serving bishop stepped down Friday and his resignation was accepted.

The Vatican recently published the guidelines it has been using since 2003, stressing all cases are reported to the police as soon as possible.

It has also said that Benedict will be able to defrock paedophiles immediately.

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