By Hilary White

ROME, March 15, 2010 ( – Vatican officials came out swinging this weekend against allegations in the media that Pope Benedict was involved in a cover-up of a priest abuser while he was archbishop of Munich. At the same time, the pope has reiterated the Church’s defense of celibacy for priests, denying claims that it has contributed to the sexual abuse scandals.

On Saturday, Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi denounced the “aggressive persistence” of media reports attempting to implicate Pope Benedict in the ongoing sexual abuse scandals currently hitting the Catholic Church in Germany.

It is clear, he said, “there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses.

“For any objective observer, it's clear that these efforts have failed,” Lombardi added.

This weekend, the Times of London issued the headline, “Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry,” with Richard Owen in Rome claiming, “The Pope was drawn directly into the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal last night as news emerged of his part in a decision to send a paedophile priest for therapy.”

But a statement from the Munich archdiocese clarified that the priest involved was not a priest of the Munich archdiocese, of which then-Cardinal Ratzinger was then archbishop, and that it was not under Ratzinger’s orders that he was undergoing psychiatric treatment.

Instead the priest, who has not been named, was sent from his home diocese of Essen to Munich to undergo therapy for “sexual improprieties.” He later re-offended, and in 1986 he was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined.

The only involvement of Cardinal Ratzinger was his approval of a decision to allow the priest to be housed in a rectory during his stay in the city.

Vatican officials are not alone in excoriating the coverage. Philip Lawler of called the Times headline, “grossly misleading, downright irresponsible.”

Lawler commented, “There is no evidence that the Pope was aware the accused priest was an accused pedophile; he was evidently informed only that the priest had been guilty of sexual improprieties, and probably concluded that he was engaged in homosexual activities with young men.” 

Damian Thompson, blog editor of the Daily Telegraph and editor of the Catholic Herald, blasted Ruth Gledhill, the religion editor for the Times, who had written: “The case of a sex abuser being given accommodation in Munich with the approval of its then archbishop, now the Pope, is reminiscent of the scandal that engulfed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor soon after his appointment to Westminster.”

Thompson shot back, however, saying, “No, it is NOT reminiscent of that scandal, Ruth. The Pope did not put a paedophile back into circulation; in contrast, the Cardinal [Murphy-O’Connor] showed very bad judgment in the case of Michael Hill and was lucky to hang on to his position.

“But, by writing such bollocks, you make it reminiscent.”

At the same time, Pope Benedict is reportedly “distraught” by the ongoing sexual abuse scandal in Germany that began to surface last month. Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of a conference of German bishops, discussed the scandal in a meeting with the pope Friday, and said that priestly celibacy was not the cause of the problem.

The pope later called celibacy for priests “an expression of the gift of the self to God and to others.”

Reports of priestly abuse of minors have overwhelmingly involved boys or male adolescents. Most allegations of abuse, including the majority of those in Germany, date largely from the period between the 1960s and 1980s when Catholic authorities widely changed their policies on allowing men with homosexual tendencies to be ordained.

In 2009, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative at the UN in Geneva said it is “more correct” to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males, than pedophilia, in relation to the scandals.

“Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90 per cent belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17,” said Tomasi.