Supporters Rally Around Pope Amid Crisis

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It's been a rough Holy Week for Pope Benedict XVI as he faces serious allegations about sex abuse and the Catholic Church.

Benedict washed the feet of 12 priests in a ceremony, remembering the Lord's last supper and an act of supreme humility during the most tumultuous week of his tenure as pope.

"I think there is no question that this has been the worst crisis that the United States church has experienced in its history," said Father Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University. "It was terrible for the poor victims who were abused. It shocked the people in the pews and really hurt the credibility of the clergy and the bishops."

Even as Catholic leaders apologize to victims of past sexual abuse, the Vatican is pushing back against attacks on the pope by the media.

An article posted on the Vatican Web site criticizes reports in the New York Times that Pope Benedict -- then Cardinal Ratzinger -- was to blame for the lack of action taken in the 1996 case of Milwaukee's Father Lawrence Murphy. Murphy was a priest accused of molesting hundreds of deaf boys over three decades.

"It must (be) acknowledged that the number of accusations of abuse has dropped by more than 30 percent over the last year, and most of them concerned cases more than 30 years old," explained Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi. "Without entering into further details, it must be recognized that the decisive measures currently being implemented are proving effective."

Benedict has been praised for the church's current treatment of pedophile priest cases. He took a tough stance against Father Marciel Maciel -- a favorite of Pope John Paul II -- who was accused of sex abuse.

Benedict was pressured not to investigate, but eventually went ahead in defiance of the Vatican.

But for critics of the Vatican, some questions remain over Benedict's handling of the Murphy case.

"This controversy will not be put to rest until the pope himself gives the answer to the question, the famous question that Sen. Howard Baker asked in the Watergate hearings many years ago," said Father Richard McBrien, theology professor at Notre Dame. "What did he know and when did he know it, and third question... what did he do about it?"

It's clear that Pope Benedict still has the confidence of the Catholic hierarchy.

In the holiest of weeks, his call to priests was to greater holiness.

"May priests everywhere be conformed ever more closely to Christ as heralds of His message of hope, reconciliation and peace," Benedict said.

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Dale Hurd

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A CBN News veteran, Dale Hurd has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America.  Since 9/11, Dale has reported in depth on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe.  Follow Dale on Twitter @HurdontheWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/DaleHurdNews.