Vatican defends pope over sex-abuse scandals

By associated press
Sunday, March 14, 2010; A10

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican on Saturday denounced what it called aggressive attempts to drag Pope Benedict XVI into the spreading scandals of pedophile priests in his German homeland.

The Vatican's campaign to defend the pope's reputation and resolve in preventing abuse of minors by clergy followed acknowledgment by the Munich archdiocese that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there.

Benedict is also under fire for a 2001 directive he wrote while he was a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential. Germany's justice minister has blamed the directive for what she called a "wall of silence" preventing prosecution.

Skeptical about the Vatican's handling of abuse, a U.S.-based advocacy group for victims, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged people to bring candles and childhood photos to vigils outside churches, cathedrals and German consulates across the United States this weekend as a reminder to "call police, not bishops" in cases of suspected abuse.

But the Holy See's prosecutor for clergy sex-abuse cases, providing some of the first statistics about his office's handling of allegations, decried what he called "false and defamatory" contentions that Benedict had promoted a "policy of coverup." At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were "never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities," Monsignor Charles Scicluna said.

But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean that they shouldn't go to police. And victims' attorneys in the United States say the document shows that the church tried to obstruct justice.

Scicluna said that in countries that do not oblige bishops to go to authorities with allegations of abuse, "we encourage them to invite the victims to report these priests." The Maltese prelate said the pope had personally decided to remove priests involved in "particularly grave cases with heavy proof." Those cases amounted to about 10 percent of some 3,000 cases handled by the Vatican in the past decade, what Scicluna called a small fraction of the 400,000 priests worldwide, and cover crimes committed during the past 50 years. Clergy in an additional 10 percent of the cases were defrocked at their own request, he said.

Meanwhile, the scandal swirling around Benedict's brother, Georg Ratzinger, escalated with the first public allegations of abuse of choirboys. The pontiff's brother led the group in Regensburg from 1964 to 1994. Previously reported cases of sexual abuse date to the late 1950s.

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