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Bookmaker slashes odds on Pope's resignation

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 10, 2010. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

LONDON (Reuters) - Irish bookmaker Paddy Power said Friday it had cut the odds on Pope Benedict XVI resigning after allegations of child abuse by priests in Germany gripped the Roman Catholic Church.

Ireland’s biggest bookmaker, which has branches in Britain as well as Catholic Ireland, said it had cut the odds from 12 to 1 to 3 to 1 following a “cascade of bets.”

The bookie also said it had cut the odds on Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze becoming the next Pontiff to 4 to 1, after what it called a significant gamble. The firm said Arinze was now the clear favourite.

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Italy, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, all on 8 to 1 were next most likely to succeed.

“The dark clouds of clerical abuse scandals show no sign of abating and recent reports from Germany are surely a little too close to home for the Pope,” the company said in a statement.

The head of Germany’s Roman Catholic Church apologised to victims of child abuse Friday and met Pope Benedict at the Vatican who encouraged him to press ahead with measures to root it out.

As abuse allegations multiplied in Austria and the Netherlands, the Vatican expressed alarm about the gravity of the crisis engulfing the Church this week.

Child abuse scandals in Ireland and the United States have wreaked havoc on the Church’s reputation and finances, with the U.S. Church paying some $2 billion in settlements.

There are very few examples of clear Papal resignations down through the centuries. Pope Celestine V who abdicated in 1294, and Pope Gregory XII who stepped down in 1415 are the best-known examples.

Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Myra MacDonald