Image: Pope Benedict XVI
ALBERTO PIZZOLI  /  AFP - Getty Images
A prelate adjust the Pope Benedict XVI skullcap during the Easter vigil mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on Saturday. The Pontiff presided a night mass where Catholics are asked to renew their baptismal vows, before leading the Church in the most joyful day of its calendar on Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.
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updated 4/3/2010 6:24:26 PM ET 2010-04-03T22:24:26

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Easter Vigil on Saturday as the Vatican newspaper denounced what it called a "vile defamation operation" against him concerning the clerical abuse scandal.

Benedict presided over the evening service in St. Peter's Basilica, commemorating the night before Easter, when Christians believe Christ rose from the dead.

The pope didn't directly refer to the scandal in his homily. He focused on life, death, and immortality, pondering what would happen if modern medicine could remove death altogether.

"Would that be a good thing?" he asked. "Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation," he said.

Rather than prolonging death, he said, baptism offers the "medicine of immortality."

During the service, Benedict baptized six people — a traditional feature of Easter eve papal Masses.

In an article Saturday, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano denounced what it called the "vile defamation campaign" against the pope and cited messages of solidarity that had arrived from bishops from around the world.

The Vatican has accused the media of fanning the scandal by reporting on cases of priests who raped children and bishops who either didn't report it to police or were stymied from pursuing church trials by the Vatican.

Benedict, who on Sunday celebrates Easter and delivers his "Urbi et Orbi" speech, hasn't made any explicit reference to the scandal since he released a letter to the Irish faithful concerning the abuse crisis in that country on March 20.

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