British docu alleges Pope linked to 'child abuse cover-up'

LONDON (AFP) - A British documentary aired Sunday claimed that Pope Benedict XVI was implicated in the systematic cover-up of child sex abuse allegations against Catholic priests.

Before becoming head of the church, the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger enforced church doctrinal orthodoxy, including a ''secret Vatican decree which seemed to shelter the perpetrators and silence the victims of abuse'', the Panorama programme said.

This was the 1962 document Crimen Sollicitationis, which told top churchmen how to deal with priests who ''solicit or provoke the penitent toward impure and obscene matters'', according to a translation from Latin on the BBC website.

It imposed an oath of secrecy on victims, witnesses and those probing abuse claims and said that anyone breaking this would be excommunicated, the BBC said.

Father Tom Doyle, a canon solicitor reportedly sacked by the Vatican after criticising its handling of child abuse claims, told the BBC that Crimen was ''an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy, to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by the churchmen.''

But the programme's claims have provoked a furious response from the Catholic Church in Britain.

The Archbishop of Birmingham, in central England, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, told Britain's Press Association news agency that it used Vatican documents ''quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the pope.''

Speaking on behalf of bishops in England and Wales, he accused the BBC of ''a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader''.

And he added that the Catholic Church in England and Wales was working to protect children with transparency and care.

Ratzinger clarified church law on the issue in 2001 and Panorama reported that he had ordered that the Vatican must have ''exclusive competence'' for child abuse cases.

''It's all controlled by the Vatican and at the top of the Vatican is the pope so Joseph Ratzinger was in the middle of this for most of the years that Crimen was enforced,'' Doyle added.

The pope could ''tomorrow'' order that the church take strong action against those accused of child sex scandals and co-operate with legal proceedings.

The Catholic Church told the Press Association that the second, 2001 document does not hinder investigations of child abuse allegations and that Crimen is not directly linked to child abuse but deals with the misuse of the confessional.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, central London, and spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales, has written to Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, to protest about the programme.

The BBC said it was standing by it and would respond to the letter when they received it.

The programme was presented by Colm O'Gorman, who was abused by a priest as a boy and is now director of One In Four, an Irish charity which supports people who have been sexually abused.

''What gets me is it's the same story every time and every place.

''Bishops appoint priests that they know have abused children in the past to new parishes and new communities and more abuse happens,'' he said on the programme.

The show also claimed to have found seven priests facing child abuse investigations living in and around Vatican City.

Panorama told its viewers that the Vatican had failed to respond to requests for interview



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