Church decries 'efforts' to link pope to paedophilia scandal

The Vatican has decried what it called efforts "to personally implicate" Pope Benedict XVI in a child sex scandal plaguing the church after it emerged he once helped an accused priest secure housing before receiving treatment for paedophilia.


AFP - The Vatican fought attempts to link Pope Benedict XVI to child sex abuse in a counteroffensive on Saturday against widening paedophilia scandals.

"It is clearly evident that in the past few days there are some who have sought -- with a dogged focus on Regensburg and Munich -- elements to personally implicate the Holy Father in questions of abuse," spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

"It is clear that these efforts have failed," he said on Radio Vatican.

On Friday, the pope's former diocese of Munich confirmed a report that, as an archbishop in 1980, the pontiff approved housing for a priest who had been accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex.

Six years later, the priest was given a suspended prison sentence for child sex offences. The archdiocese said he still works in Bavaria, with no known repeat violations.

The disclosure added to a growing scandal in Germany that had already come close to Pope Benedict's brother Georg Ratzinger, a former choirmaster.

The first revelations emerged in January when an elite Jesuit school in Berlin admitted systematic sexual abuse of pupils by two priests in the 1970s and 1980s.

Among other boarding schools since implicated is one attached to the Domspatzen ("Cathedral Sparrows"), Regensburg cathedral's thousand-year-old choir which was run for 30 years by the pope's older brother.

Ratzinger, 86, said on Tuesday that the alleged sexual abuse in the 1950s and 1960s -- before his time -- was "never discussed".

In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel a former choirboy Thomas Mayer said he was raped by older boys at a time when Ratzinger ran the choir.

He also said Ratzinger had violent fits of outrage during rehearsals.

"Ratzinger, I saw him extremely angry and irascible during rehearsals," Mayer said. "Several times I saw him throw a chair at the male voices, which I was part of." Once he was so angry that he spat his dentures out.

Ratzinger recently acknowledged that he had "given slaps" at the beginning of his tenure and that he had always had a "bad conscience" about it and felt "relieved" when a law banning corporal punishment was made in the early 1980s.

A proliferation of abuse scandals across Europe has prompted deep soul-searching among church leaders, not least in Germany where 19 of the 27 dioceses have been implicated in allegations.

Vatican spokesman Lombardi said on Saturday that the pope "encouraged" "recognising the truth and helping victims" in cases of abuse, adding that the line of the Church was not "to cover up these offences but ... to judge and adequately punish" offenders.

Most of the priests concerned are not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago. But there have been growing calls for a change in the law and for the church to pay compensation.

Writing in the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, the Bishop of Alessandria in northern Italy, Giuseppe Versaldi, criticised the attacks on the Church and said the pope had fought hard to tackle the problem of sex abuse.

"It is thanks to the pope's increased rigour that different episcopal conferences have shone light on cases of sexual abuse and worked with civil authorities to achieve justice for the victims," the bishop wrote in a front-page article.

A senior Vatican official sought to downplay the child sex abuse scandals in an interview with a newspaper.

Charles Scicluna told Italian newspaper Avennire, which is close to the Vatican, that 300 "cases of priests accused of paedophilia" had been counted between 2001 and 2010 out of 400,000 priests and other clergy overall.

"Of course it's too much, but it has to be acknowledged that the phenomenon is not as widespread as is being made out," he said.


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