Bishops condemn abuse cover up allegations against Pope

British bishops have denounced as "misleading" accusations by a BBC investigative TV program that Pope Benedict played a leading role as a cardinal in a systematic cover up of child sex abuse by Catholic priests.

According to a Sydney Morning Herald report, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, will write to the broadcaster's director-general, Mark Thompson, a practising Catholic, to complain about the Panorama program, "Sex Crimes and the Vatican."

The program said it had unearthed Vatican documents aimed at preventing the proper examination of claims of child abuse and accused Benedict XVI of shielding priests from investigation in his previous role as enforcer of church doctrinal orthodoxy.

The Panorama documentary broadcast by the BBC on Sunday night based its allegations on a 2001 document issued by then-Cardinal Ratzinger updating a 1962 Holy See document "Crimen Sollicitationis".

According to the BBC, the updated document recommended that rather than reporting sexual abuse to the relevant legal authorities, bishops should encourage the victim, witnesses and perpetrator not to talk about it.

In order to keep victims quiet, it also threatened that if they repeated the allegations they would be excommunicated, the BBC said.

The Panorama documentary presented by Com O'Gorman who was himself raped at the age of 14 by a priest, also quoted American Dominican canon lawyer, Fr Tom Doyle who described the document as "an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy and to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by the churchmen", a This is London report adds.

In a strongly worded response, Birmingham Archbishop Vincent Nichols (pictured), Chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, comments that while the BBC program "makes clear the suffering of those abused in their childhood", the broadcaster "should be ashamed" of the program's standard of journalism.

"Viewers will recognise only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the program, which uses old footage and undated interviews", Archbishop Nichols continued according to a statement published by the Independent Catholic News.

"They will know that aspects of the program amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader."

Defending the Pope, he said "Since 2001, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took many steps to apply the law of the Church to allegations and offences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's letter will be made public later this week, according to the report.

Dublin archbishop "violently angry" over priest abuse

Meanwhile in an Irish TV interview, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who previously worked for the Holy See, has described how he felt "violently angry" on hearing stories of priests abusing children.

He says his strict new child protection guidelines for priests are the only way to attempt to regain the trust of parents and bring people back to the church.

Unison quoted Archbishop Martin as saying that he is aware he has angered some priests who say the measures are "over-strict" and often result in clergy being stood aside from ministry when they are innocent.

"It is now a question of regaining confidence - and you have to earn it," he says.

"I try to do that by having norms in place to deal with any future allegations. There have been priests taken out of ministry who are innocent. They can be very angry with me and have a right to be angry with me," he said.

Archbishop Martin says the details of the abuse left him furious and having to remind himself that the abusers "are people too".

"When you listened to some of the stories, you couldn't but be violently angry. At one stage I went out to a school and asked to see eight-year-olds. I had just seen someone who was raped when they were eight and it was a terrible thing. I was so furious - you couldn't but be.

"It has changed me and it makes me see this question in a very different way."

Catholic Church response to BBC's 'Sex crimes and the Vatican' programme (Independent Catholic News, 2/10/06)
Pope 'led cover-up of child abuse by priests'
This is London (30/9/06)

Bishops condemn BBC abuse claim (BBC News, 1/10/06)
Archbishop 'violently angry' at child abuse (Unison, 1/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
BBC Panorama | Sex crimes and the Vatican

More media attention for 1962 Vatican instruction to cover up sex abuse (CathNews, 18/8/03)

Bishops reject abuse cover-up claims
Church hits back over BBC claims (Sydney Morning Herald 3/10/06)
Bishops reject abuse cover-up claims (Courier Mail 2/10/06)

3 Oct 2006