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Vatican Attacks Media After Report It Ignored Priest Sex Abuse

Italian police leave St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 25, 2010 after removing Americans taking part in a demonstration against child sexual abuse by priests. ALESSIA GIULIANI/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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The Vatican is resorting to a strategy long favored by institutions that find themselves under harsh public scrutiny — it's blaming the messenger, in this case the media.

Reuters' Philip Pullella reports the following:

VATICAN CITY, March 25 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Thursday angrily attacked the media over its reporting of sexual abuse of children by priests, saying there was an "ignoble attempt" to smear Pope Benedict "at any cost".

The editorial in a Vatican newspaper came on a day abuse victims protested near St Peter's Square to demand the pope open files on paedophile clerics and defrock "predator priests", and a cardinal spoke of a "conspiracy" against the church.

"The prevalent tendency in the media is to ignore the facts and stretch interpretations with the aim of spreading the picture of the Catholic Church as the only one responsible for sexual abuse, something which does not correspond to reality," the Vatican newspaper said.

There was "clearly an ignoble attempt to strike at Pope Benedict and his closest aides at any cost," it said.

The editorial challenged a New York Times report about the case of Rev. Lawrence Murphy, accused of sexually abusing up to 200 deaf boys in the United States from the 1950s to the 1970s. Among 25 internal church documents the Times posted on its
website was a 1996 letter about Murphy to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the Vatican's top doctrinal official and now Pope Benedict, showing he had been informed of the case.

Ratzinger's deputy first advised a secret disciplinary trial but reversed that in 1998 after Murphy appealed directly to Ratzinger for clemency. The priest died later that year.

The Vatican newspaper said: "There was no cover-up in the case of Father Murphy". The Vatican said earlier he was not disciplined because church laws do not require automatic punishment.

An obvious problem with the Vatican's push back on these latest revelations is that these charges aren't originating with journalists but with people who say they were victimized by pedophilic priests and that the Church did too little or nothing in response. In the case of the New York Times, the information is coming from court documents.

Also, it's not like the problem of sexual abuse by priests is new. Since such abuse was first publicly discussed in the 1960s, there've been thousands of reports of abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere. Likewise, a major theme for decades has been that church officials did far too little to deal with their pedophile priests, often transferring them between parishes where they could still exploit children instead of removing them and reporting them to law enforcement.

Thus, the association of the church in the public's collective mind with child sexual abuse is fairly firmly established.

So it's curious the Vatican would now be acting as though it's engaged in a high-profile tug of war with the media for the general public's hearts and minds on sex abuse in the church. That's a fight it would appear the Catholic church lost many years ago.

The media would seem to be the least of the church's problems.