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Vatican defends Pope Benedict in German abuse scandal

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict has had to deal with sex abuse scandals in various countries

The Vatican has denounced attempts to link Pope Benedict XVI to a child abuse scandal in his native Germany.

Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said there had been "aggressive" efforts to involve the Pope, but added: "It's clear that these attempts have failed."

The Holy See's prosecutor meanwhile said that "to accuse the current Pope of hiding [cases of abuse] is false".

The Pope's former diocese earlier said he once unwittingly approved housing for a priest accused of child abuse.

The episode dates back to 1980 when he was archbishop of Munich and Freising, and known as Joseph Ratzinger.

However, a former deputy said he - not the future Pope - had made the decision to re-house the priest, who later abused other children and was convicted.

'Defamation'

Father Lombardi told Vatican Radio accusations of a Papal cover-up were "defamatory".

"There have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses," he said.

[Church secrecy has] never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities
Monsignor Charles Scicluna

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican official in charge of prosecuting priests alleged to have committed serious sexual crimes, told L'Avvenire - the Italian Bishops Conference newspaper - that accusations that the pontiff had helped cover up abuse were "false and calumnious".

He added that the future Pope "showed wisdom and firmness" in handling cases of abuse when he was head of the department in charge of Church discipline, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for four years before becoming Pope.

But Monsignor Scicluna admitted that since 2001, about 3,000 accusations of abuse by priests of minors had been received by Vatican officials. They involved both diocesan and religious priests and regarded acts committed over the last 50 years.

"We can say that about 60% of the cases chiefly involved sexual attraction towards adolescents of the same sex, another 30% involved heterosexual relations," he said.

"The remaining 10% were cases of paedophilia in the true sense of the term; that is, based on sexual attraction towards prepubescent children."

He said that 60% of the cases had not come to trial, largely because of the advanced age of the accused, but that they faced other "administrative and disciplinary provisions", including being required to live in seclusion and prohibition from celebrating Mass.

"It's true that there has been no formal condemnation," Monsignor Scicluna said, adding: "It must be made absolutely clear that in these cases, some of which are particularly sensational and have caught the attention of the media, no absolution has taken place."

He also addressed accusations that the Vatican was obstructing justice by hiding reports of abuse, saying that "secrecy during the investigative phase served to protect the good name of all the people involved; first and foremost, the victims themselves, then the accused priests who have the right — as everyone does — to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty".

But he said Church secrecy had "never been understood as a ban on denouncing the crimes to the civil authorities".

'Therapy'

Following a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, the diocese of Munich and Freising confirmed earlier this week that then-Archbishop Ratzinger had let the priest, known only as H, stay at a vicarage in Munich for "therapy".

The repeated employment of H in priestly spiritual duties was a bad mistake
Gerhard Gruber, former vicar-general in Munich and Freising

H had been suspected of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform a sex act upon him in the northern city of Essen.

While he was in Munich, between February 1980 and August 1982, no wrongdoing was reported.

He was then transferred to the town of Grafing, where he was relieved of his duties in 1985 after allegations of child sex abuse, the diocese said.

In 1986, he was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and a fine for sexually abusing minors, details of which were not given by the diocese.

Archbishop Ratzinger's former deputy, Gerhard Gruber, has taken responsibility for initially allowing H to remain within the Church, saying this had been "a bad mistake".

Speaking to the Associated Press, he added that there had been about 1,000 priests in the diocese at the time and that the archbishop "could not deal with everything".



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SEE ALSO
Pope's diocese 'rehoused abuser'
12 Mar 10 |  Europe
Pope defends celibacy of priests
12 Mar 10 |  Europe
Dutch bishops order abuse inquiry
10 Mar 10 |  Europe
Vatican accused over German abuse
08 Mar 10 |  Europe

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