VATICAN CITY - The Vatican yesterday denounced what it called aggressive attempts to drag Pope Benedict XVI into the spreading scandals of pedophile priests in his German homeland.
It also insisted that church confidentiality doesn't prevent bishops from reporting abuse to police.
The Vatican's campaign to defend the pope's reputation and resolve in combating clergy abuse of minors followed acknowledgment by the Munich archdiocese that it had transferred a suspected pedophile priest to community work while Benedict was archbishop there.
Benedict is also under fire for a 2001 church directive he wrote while a Vatican cardinal, instructing bishops to keep abuse cases confidential.
Germany's justice minister has blamed the directive for what she called a "wall of silence" preventing prosecution.
Skeptical about the Vatican's handling of abuse, a U.S.-based advocacy group for abuse victims, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged faithful to bring candles and childhood photos to vigils outside churches, cathedrals and German consulates across the United States this weekend to remind people to "call police, not bishops" in cases of suspected abuse.
But the Holy See's so-called prosecutor for clergy sex abuse cases, providing some of the first statistics about his office's handling of allegations, decried what he called "false and defamatory" contentions that Benedict had promoted a "policy of cover up." At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were "never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities," Msgr. Charles Scicluna told Avvenire, a newspaper owned by the Italian Bishops Conference.
But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean they shouldn't go to police. And victims' lawyers in the United States say the document shows the church tried to obstruct justice.
Scicluna contended that in countries that do not oblige bishops to go to authorities with allegations of abuse, "we encourage them to invite the victims to report these priests."