Discuss as:

Holy Week with a difference in Vatican City

VATICAN CITY – The view of St. Peter's Basilica down via della Conciliazione is still spectacular, especially at sunset. Tourists meander on the sidewalks and still eat gelato. The faithful bring rosary beads, medals, and other religious symbols to the weekly papal audience and still yearn for the blessing.

But Holy Week 2010 is different. Instead of just the annual reflection on the death and resurrection of Jesus, this year there is an undercurrent of anger over the revelations of clergy sexual abuse here in Europe.

Image: St. Peter's Square
Maciej Bugajak / NBC News
The sun sets on St. Peter's Square as Roman Catholic pilgrims observe Holy Week.

"They feel very betrayed, very betrayed. But they'll get through it just like we did in America," said Bob Duncan who hails from Avondale, Pa. He and his wife, Sue, are on a 40th wedding anniversary trip to Italy. A papal mass is a must for them this Holy Week.

"Certainly, we want those people to be comforted," said Sue, referring to the abuse victims. "But I do not think it overrides Easter."

The scandal was mentioned in almost every sentence when people talked about the Catholic Church this week. All eyes are on Pope Benedict XVI, who celebrated Holy Thursday Mass earlier today. He will lead the Way of the Cross on Good Friday and delivers his annual speech to the city and the world on Easter Sunday.

I asked the Vatican's spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, on Wednesday if the pope would address the issue this week. "You will have to listen," he told me, impatient with the questions that will not stop. 

While there is plenty of debate about what Pope Benedict knew about two cases of abusive priests when he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, there is a yearning among visitors, especially Catholic visitors, to hear from the pope on the issue.

VIDEO: Cardinals continue defense of Pope Benedict XVI

Lombardi insisted that the pope has not been silent or insensitive to this difficult issue. "He has been a witness of clarity, of decision, of transparency in all the problem of sexual abuses," he said.

When I asked why the pope hasn't said anything to the Catholics in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, even his native Germany, Lombardi directed me to the letter Benedict wrote to the Irish church about its abusive priest crisis two weeks ago.

"But everyone can understand also many references to situations that are also in other lands," Lombardi said. "There are very, very profound and touching words for the victims with the profound understanding of the suffering of the situations. Also, with very hard words for the abusers. And also, with important words of responsibilities for the bishops."

In world of 24-hour news cycles, the Vatican continues to move at its own pace, confounding many here who want comfort, apologies, and most of all, assurance that when a priest is found to be an abuser that he will be thrown out instead to another assignment where he can abuse again. 

Though many are frustrated, they are also quick to separate the predators from the rest of the priesthood. 

Rob Coppedge was visiting Rome with his fiancée, Anastasia. He is a student at Georgetown University, run by the Jesuit order. He said that when he hears about the increasing number of accusations, he thinks of the wonderful priests he knows at Georgetown.

"I see those as acts of individuals rather than being institutional acts," said Coppedge, while visiting St. Peter's Square. 

I heard many comments like that from Catholics who have respect for the priests they know, the ones who teach, counsel and obey their vows. 

Their real anger is directed at the leadership, or lack of leadership, at the Vatican during this very sacred week for the Christian world.

Related story: Vatican: Pope has immunity in sex abuse trials