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Pope shares pain of wrongly accused priests

False claims of child prostitution ring hurt many says Francis

06 March, 20:02
Pope shares pain of wrongly accused priests (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Vatican City, March 6 - Pope Francis told a group of Rome priests Thursday that he "shared the pain" of priests suffering "unjust wounds" caused by allegations against some of them. "Lots of people have been injured, by material problems, by scandals, including in the Church," the pope said during a meeting with priests inside the Vatican.

He was referring to an incident in March 2013 when former priest Patrizio Poggi was convicted and sent to prison for five years for paedophilia, and also denounced other priests, saying they were involved in a child prostitution ring.

Police later said his claims were unfounded and Poggi was charged with aggravated slander. According to police, his accusations were driven by "resentment tied to personal reasons".

The pope said the case hurt many in the Church.

"I shared the pain of some of you, of the entire priesthood, for the accusations made against a group of you," Francis told the meeting.

"I have talked to some of you who have been accused and saw the pain of these unjust wounds, (this) madness, and I want to say publicly that I am close to (you)," he said.

Francis said he also apologized on behalf of the Church because the false accusations came from within its ranks His comments come following an interview published Wednesday, in which Pope Francis defended the Church's response to a long series of scandals about child sex abuse by clergymen.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera ahead of the first anniversary of his election as pontiff next week the Argentine pontiff said: "The cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds".

"Benedict XVI was very courageous and he opened a road.

The Church has come a long way. Perhaps more than anyone.

"The statistics about the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also show clearly that the overwhelming majority of the abuses take place in family or neighbourhood environments. "The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more.

"And yet the Church is the only one to be attacked". his week's report by the Last month the United Nations Committee for the Rights of the Child issued a wide-ranging report that excoriated the Vatican for adopting policies that it said allowed sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children by clergymen and demanded immediate action.

The Vatican responded by claiming the committee showed "grave limits" in a misunderstanding "of the specific nature of the Holy See".

Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi accused the committee of prejudice.

He said the committee bowed to prejudicial arguments from anti-Vatican NGOs.

"The insistence on particular cases" showed attention was given to "well-known NGOs contrary to the Catholic Church itself, and not to positions of the Church and the Holy See", he said.

Lombardi said the Vatican was entitled to be "baffled" by the Geneva-based committee's failure to understand the makeup of the Church, not just as a religious institution but as a juridical entity.

Critics of the report argue it asks too much of the Holy See, which despite being the central government of the international Church is nevertheless incapable of directly overseeing every local parish that caters to the world's more than one billion Catholics.

For instance, it would be impossible, critics add, to track spending on children in Catholic institutions worldwide, or to create an international monitoring body to be made accessible to all children in all the Church's hundreds of thousands of educational institutions, as the report urges it to do.

"The lack of comprehension of the nature of the Holy See is grave," said Lombardi.

"It's true that our structure is different from other States, making it difficult to understand our role or responsibility. But that's been explained in great detail over the years.

"Is (the Committee) unable or unwilling to understand? In either case we have the right to be baffled".

The Vatican said the Committee was prejudiced and had ignored efforts to stop pedophiles and help victims over the last decade, bowing to prejudicial arguments from anti-Vatican NGOs.

"The insistence on particular cases" showed attention was given to "well-known NGOs contrary to the Catholic Church itself, and not to positions of the Church and the Holy See," he said.

The Committee also overstepped its brief by criticising Catholic ethical doctrine, voicing "its own ideological vision on sexuality" in "moral judgements on abortion and contraception", said Lombardi.

Nevertheless there is "no clash" between the Vatican and the United Nations, he added, after some ardent Vatican supporters insisted the Vatican withdraw its signature to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"The Holy See has always given strong moral support to the United Nations as a place of gathering between nations, to promote world peace and harmony among peoples," said Lombardi.

The spokesman went on to credit "higher" officials in the UN "who have always understood the importance of the Holy See's moral and religious authority".