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While the jury is still out on the recent Noah’s Ark discovery on Mount Ararat in Turkey, Pope Benedict has just returned from his pilgrimage to the mother of disputed religious artifacts: the Shroud of Turin.

The Associated Press reports that the pontiff “all but gave an outright endorsement” of the relic, which some believe to be the burial shroud of the crucified Jesus Christ. (Carbon-dating scraps of the cloth concluded the linen was at least a thousand years too young to be authentic, but believers have blamed contamination and resurrection-related radiation for those results.) 

Despite the historical controversy, the trip at least offered Pope Benedict a short break from the present-day heated debates over how the Vatican has, is and should handle the clergy abuse scandal — except for the several hundred protesters who turned up in Turin to demonstrate during his visit there Sunday.

The pope is more vulnerable to such demonstrations when he leaves Italy, as evidenced by his recent visit to Malta and the uproar over his planned trip to England and Scotland this fall. Coming up on his itinerary: Portugal from May 11 to 14, then Cyprus from June 4 to 6.

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