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Vatican Defends Pope Over Abuse Scandal

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, and contended he has long confronted abuse cases with courage.

In separate interviews, both the Holy See's spokesman and its prosecutor for sex abuse of minors by clergy sought to defend the pope.

After decades of similar scandals in the United States, Ireland and elsewhere, the sex abuse scandal moved closer to Benedict in recent days.

After accusations of abuse connected to the Regensburg boys choir directed by the pope's elder brother for some 30 years, the Munich archdiocese acknowledged Friday that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there.

Criticism has also mounted over a 2001 church directive Benedict wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential.

"It's rather clear that in the last days, 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," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

"For any objective observer, it's clear that these efforts have failed," Lombardi said, reiterating his statement a day earlier noting the Munich diocese has insisted that Benedict wasn't involved in the decision, while archbishop there, to transfer the suspected child abuser.

Lombardi cited an interview with the Italian bishops conference daily Avvenire Saturday, in which the Vatican's prosecutor for sex abuse cases, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, contended that the future pope dealt firmly with the abuse.

"To accuse the current pope of hiding (cases) is false and defamatory," Scicluna said.

Avvenire Interview (In Italian, 3.12.10)

As Vatican cardinal in charge of the policy on sex abuse, the future pope, "showed wisdom and firmness in handling these cases," said Scicluna, a Maltese prelate in an interview entitled "The Church is tough on pedophilia."

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising announced late Friday it was setting up a new task force to focus on raising awareness about an preventing sexual abuse within the church and its institutions.

"There is no 100 percent protection against sexual abuse, because we can never rule out the failure or misdoing of individuals, but we want to apply ourselves 100 percent to prevent it from happening again," said the General Vicar of the archdiocese, Prelate Peter Beer.

The new task force will also collaborate with the workgroup tasked with working through allegations of past abuse. Beer said that group would be expanded to include an external, independent legal office. The archdiocese, where Pope Benedict XVI served as Archbishop from 1977 to 1982, set up the workgroup last month after allegations of abuse in a church-run school surfaced.

Thomas Mayer told Germany's Der Spiegel weekly that he had been sexually and physically abused while singing in the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir through 1992.

Mayer's abuse allegations, published Saturday, are the first that overlap with the tenure of the pontiff's brother Georg Ratzinger, who led group from 1964 to 1994. Previously reported cases of sexual abuse dates back to the late 1950s.

More for Der Spiegel (in English):
"The Church Is Not a Criminal Organization" (Der Spiegel, 3.12.10)
Former Regensburg Choirboys Talk of "Naked Beatings" (Der Spiegel, 3.08.10)

Mayer charged in Spiegel that he had been raped by older pupils. Spiegel quoted him as saying that pupils were forced to have anal sex with one another in the apartment of a prefect at the church-run boarding school attached to the choir. The Regensburg diocese has refused to comment on the report.

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