Rich families could sponsor poor ones, says Pope

Families from rich countries could sponsor families from poor ones, Pope Benedict XVI suggested Saturday at a gathering of around 350,000 people at a park just north of Milan.

The pope was speaking at the latest event in a three-day visit to Milan, part of the Church-sponsored World Meeting of Families, a relaxed and festive setting that has been a welcome distraction from recent crises at the Vatican.

Speaking without notes before an enthusiastic crowd at the Bresso park, the pope proposed a new twist to the system under which cities in different countries "twin" with each other.

His suggestion that families from rich countries could act as sponsors for families from poorer ones drew enthusiastic applause from his audience.

One could have "a family in France, in Germany in Italy, talking responibility for helping" another family in need, said the pope.

Earlier Saturday, he appeared cheered by the raucous welcome he received from around 80,000 young Catholics at the city's famous San Siro football stadium.

The crowds of adolescents and children were divided into groups in the colours of the rainbow and some presented a choreographed show on the pitch. Several then had the chance to address a few words to the pope.

One young Italian, Giovanni Castiglioni, told the pope: "It's so great to be able to welcome you in the stadium where our champions play. Today, you are the biggest champion."

Milan's Archbishop Angelo Scola, accompanying the pope, said he hoped the young pilgrims' "contagious enthusiasm" would bring the pope "smiles, rest and joy".

The events of the last few weeks have not been easy for the leader of the Catholic Church.

The so-called "Vatileaks" scandal, in which hundreds of secret papal documents were leaked to the media, led last week to the arrest of the pope's personal butler.

The drama appears to have taken its toll on the 85-year-old pontiff.

On the second day of his trip to address pilgrims from 154 countries, the pope also spoke to hundreds of clergy members in Milan Cathedral.

Despite increasing calls from some parts of the Church for clergy to be allowed to marry, he made it clear that the question of priest celibacy was not up for debate.

"The shining light of pastoral charity and a unified heart is sacerdotal celibacy and enshrined virginity," Benedict said.

Some senior Catholic clergymen have called for a new discussion on the issue of priest celibacy in the wake of a string of child abuse scandals that has rocked the Church.

The pope is due to wind up his visit on Sunday with an open-air mass at Bresso airport, near Italy's economic capital.

While Benedict was blessing new-born babies and receiving yellow daisies from children as he drove around the city in his pope-mobile, the Vatican was busy denying media reports suggesting its administration was in turmoil.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi on Saturday denied reports that cardinals tasked with deciding the fate of the Vatican bank's president were split, reflecting a rift at the haert of the Holy See.

The commission of cardinals must decide whether or not to uphold the bank board's decision last month to oust Ettore Gotti Tedeschi for having allegedly failed to clean up the institution's image amid accusations of corruption.

Lombardi did not comment on other reports suggesting the cardinals were being forced to choose sides in the "Vatileaks" scandal, which some argue is aimed at ousting the Vatican number two, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.

It was Bertone who reportedly pushed the bank's board to fire their president as internal divisions over financial transparency came to a head.

Gotti Tedeschi's mission was to get the Vatican on to the "white list" of financially virtuous countries, but tensions grew after Bertone resisted reform and pushed for a new transparency law to be watered down.

Tedeschi, 67, came under suspicion himself in 2010 when he was investigated as part of an inquiry by magistrates into money-laundering.

More recently he too was suspected of having leaked secret papal documents to the press.

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