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In Easter Mass, Vatican Defends Benedict

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Cardinal Angelo Sodano dismissed the charges as 'petty gossip.'A senior Vatican cardinal defended Pope Benedict during an Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square attended by the pope, dismissing criticism of the pontiff's handling of the sexual-abuse crisis as "gossip."

The remarks, delivered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, were a rare departure from protocol and a measure of how the sexual-abuse crisis has affected the highest ranks of Roman Catholicism.

"The people of God are with you, and they won't let themselves be influenced by the gossip of the moment, by the attempts being made to strike the community of the faithful," said Cardinal Sodano in apparent reference to the crisis that has kept the Vatican on the defensive for a month. The cardinal was addressing Benedict XVI before hundreds of faithful who packed the cobblestones of St. Peter's Square on a rainy Sunday.

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