Pope anniversary marked by Pell sentencing, scandal fallout

Pope Francis, Photo Date: 5/25/2018 / Photo: Government of the Republic of Macedonia / (MGN)
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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis marked his sixth anniversary as pontiff in prayer Wednesday, attending a weeklong spiritual retreat with his closest advisers. Elsewhere in the world, one of his cardinals was sentenced for sex abuse and a new poll found American Catholics are increasingly questioning their faith because of the scandal.

In his time as pope, Francis has made it a tradition to bring the Vatican leadership with him on retreat at the start of Lent, the period of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter. This year, the spiritual exercises are being led by a Benedictine monk.

According to a report in The Catholic Herald, also attending the retreat outside Rome is an Argentine bishop close to Francis, Gustavo Zanchetta, who is currently under investigation for alleged sexual abuse. The Vatican press office said it had no comment on the report.

Francis created a job for Zanchetta at the Vatican's financial administration office after he resigned suddenly as Oran bishop in 2017. The Associated Press has reported that the Vatican had received reports starting in 2015 about inappropriate behavior with seminarians.

On Wednesday in Australia, Cardinal George Pell — who in past years attended the retreat as Francis' finance minister — was sentenced to six years in prison for sexually abusing two youths in the 1990s. He plans to appeal.

And in the U.S., a Gallup poll released Wednesday found that 37 percent of U.S. Catholics are increasingly questioning whether they would remain in the church in light of the abuse scandal, up from 22 percent in 2002 when the crisis first exploded in the U.S.

The poll found that 58 percent of Catholics had confidence in Francis, about the same as had confidence in the priests in their own congregations. Only 30 percent had confidence in U.S. bishops and other Catholic national leaders, however.

The national telephone poll of 581 Catholic adults was conducted Jan. 21-Feb. 28, which coincided with Francis' sex abuse summit of church leaders in the Vatican. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

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