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Vatican 'basta' on predator priest

Church rallies round pope

06 April, 18:00
(by Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Santiago, April 6 - Vatican No.2 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Tuesday said he was tired of hearing about an alleged cover-up by himself and Pope Benedict XVI of the case of a US priest who abused 200 deaf boys.

"Basta, basta on this subject," exclaimed Bertone, currently secretary of state, who was also No.2 to the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the future pope's 14-year tenure at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with abuse cases.

Bertone was responding to a fresh charge from German weekly Die Welt, which echoed the New York Times in claiming the pair refused to heed appeals from Milwaukee bishops in the late 1990s about the abuse committed by Father Lawrence Murphy at a Wisconsin school for deaf children between 1950 and 1974.

"It's not true, we have produced documentary evidence of the contrary," Bertone said, reiterating that the Murphy case was only brought to his then office's attention in 1998, a few months before the priest died.

Quizzed by reporters why the pope did not take advantage of his Easter message to touch on the widening abuse and cover-up scandals, Bertone added: "Let's not talk about this subject now, otherwise we'll be here all day verifying with precision the actions of myself and His Eminence (the pope)". Bertone, who was bringing Benedict's support to the quake-stricken people of Chile, adamantly refused to be drawn on why the pope did not speak out on widening abuse cases around Europe, and has not personally responded to a claim that he knew about a predator priest who returned to pastoral work when Benedict was Munich Archbishop in the mid-1980s. "Let's talk about Chile, let's talk about the future. The Pope is strong, and he is all the people".

Bertone stressed that Benedict had been seen to enjoy the unequivocal support of the massed faithful on Easter Sunday, "including many young people", and added: "He is a strong Pope, the Pope of the third millennium".

Two days before, at a Good Friday Mass in the Basilica, Papal Household Preacher Raniero Cantalamessa angered Jews by apparently comparing the criticism the Church has undergone with the anti-Semitism that fuelled the Holocaust.

He later apologised and the Vatican said he had not meant to draw such a comparison.

But the impression that the Vatican hierarchy is closing ranks around the pope was reinforced when Bertone's predecessor as secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, made an unprecedented encomium of the pope at Easter Mass, saying "all the Church" was behind him and would ignore the "idle chatter" of the alleged media campaign.

'CULTURE CLASH'.

On Tuesday Sodano, who is now Dean of the College of Cardinals, returned to the theme in an interview with Vatican daily l'Osservatore Romano.

"The failings and mistakes of priests are being used as weapons against the Church," Sodano said.

"It is a culture clash. The Pope embodies moral verities that are not accepted".

The cardinal compared media reporting of the abuse cases to 19th-century criticism of Pope Pius X, who refused to accept the unification of Italy, to longstanding allegations that WWII Pope Pius XII did not speak out against the Holocaust, and to criticism of 1960s Pope Paul VI for his stance against birth control.

"In the face of these unjust attacks we are told that we are adopting the wrong strategy, that we should react differently. (But) the Church has its style and does not adopt the methods that are being used against the Pope. The only strategy we have comes from the Gospel," Sodano said, echoing Benedict who in an Easter Thursday sermon said "Jesus did not respond when he was insulted".

Vatican Radio on Tuesday said "there are those who fear that the media campaign of anti-Catholic hate may degenerate," citing among "the first worrying signs" an attack by a mentally unstable man on a German bishop; anti-Catholic slogans daubed on a church near Viterbo; and attempts by "several groups and individuals" to disrupt Easter services across Europe.

The broadcaster recalled that the first Christians were accused of terrible crimes and lynched.

It praised the Wall Street Journal for being among the few media outlets who have noted that "Cardinal Ratzinger did more than anyone else" to force paedophile priests "to answer for what they had done". The Vatican has insisted that, starting with new abuse guidelines as doctrinal chief in 2001, Benedict has done all he can to rid the Church of "filth" he referred to after he became pope in 2005.

But critics say a new, strong and detailed statement of strategy is needed in the face of scandals in Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and, most recently, Italy itself.

photo: Bertone with pope

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