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Sex abuse scandals shake Church but not faith
BERLIN (Reuters) - Sexual abuse by clerics and accusations of cover-up have rocked the Roman Catholic Church and disturbed churchgoers around the world, but many believers say the scandals have not shaken their faith.
From Rome to Rio de Janeiro, Paris to Dublin and from Warsaw and Washington, Easter sermons were overshadowed by allegations of priests molesting children, especially in Europe and the United States, and the Church's mishandling of the crisis.
Across Pope Benedict's native Germany, hundreds of long-concealed reports of sexual abuse have emerged and shattered a notion abuse was only a U.S. and Irish problem.
Clerics in Germany used Easter sermons to pray for the victims as public sentiment against the Church turned decidedly negative in recent weeks. Thousands formally quit the Church in the last month and many more are contemplating leaving.
"It's the greatest loss of confidence in the Catholic Church since the Hitler era," said Christa Nickels, a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics and a Greens party leader.
"If you talk to people, they're stunned, they're speechless and they're confused, especially if they might know a priest who was abusing children all along," Nickels told Deutschlandfunk radio. "There's been a massive loss of confidence."
A victim hotline set up last week in a bid to win back trust by Stephan Ackermann, Bishop of Trier and the Church's expert on abuse, was swamped with 4,459 calls on its first day and had to shut down. Only calls from 162 victims could be answered.
The pope's popularity has plunged. A poll by Stern magazine found one in five Catholics say the abuse scandal is making them consider leaving the Church. Only 31 percent say the pope is doing a good job, down from 70 percent in 2007.
But Karsten Marcinkowsky, one of Berlin's 300,000 Catholics, said his belief and the scandals are two separate issues.
"What happened is terrible but it hasn't shaken my belief at all," said Marcinkowsky, 43, a computer specialist.
In Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, Mayor Victor Batarseh, himself a Catholic, said Church members were ashamed of the abuse carried out by priests.
"His holiness the pope should give a straightforward answer to all these things that have been done by some of the priests in the Catholic Church," he said.
SHOCKED AND DISAPPOINTED
Similar views could be heard over the Easter weekend in many different languages in countries around the world.
In Warsaw, Anna Boetzel said the Church should condemn the abuse, express remorse and do all it can to make sure it stops.
"It's a deeply saddening matter for me," said Boetzel, 55, a retired school teacher.
"But I definitely don't plan to leave the Church, even though it has shocked me. I'm disappointed. I believe the Church should condemn these cases, show it regrets the wrongdoing and vow to do everything to make sure it never happens again."
In Paris, a communications industry worker named Michel said it was unfair for the media and public at large to cast doubt on the entire Church because of the crimes of a few.
"Sin is everywhere, including the Church," he said.
"There's maybe one priest in 1,000 condemned of paedophilia. That means 99 percent never did anything. If you ask a sports teacher about paedophiles, there may be more than one in 1,000 but that doesn't mean we're going to stop physical education."
In Austria, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn apologised for the abuse at an emotional pre-Easter mass.
"For some of us, the Church's immaculate appearance was more important than anything else," Schoenborn said. "We confess our guilt to the many whom we have wronged as the Church, and whom some of us have wronged very directly."
In New York, churchgoers at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan said they too were appalled and saddened.
"My confidence is shaken that they are not doing all that is necessary but I think that's changing now," said a man named Tom, 57, who asked that his surname not be used. "It's disappointed me greatly. It hasn't shaken my faith."
In Mexico City, Antonio Barrera was leaving a Good Friday service. "The priests did stupid things," he said. "Their crimes have definitely damaged the Church. I believe these priests should be jailed."
In Brazil, Miriana Lima was heading into Sao Paulo Cathedral. "The church has really been shaken by this," she said. "The Pope needs to resolve it."
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw, Boris Groendahl in Vienna, Douglas Hamilton in Bethlehem, Sophie Taylor in Paris, Luciana Lopez in Sao Paulo, Patrick Rucker in Mexico and Ed Krudy in New York; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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