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Catholic abuse crisis: Church hits out at critics, archbishop speaks of 'shame'

The Catholic abuse crisis swirling around the Vatican has grown this week, with a cardinal complaining about press bias and an archbishop writing of the church's 'misplaced concern about the reputation of the church.'

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Vincent Twomey, a priest and former student of Benedict's s who still meets him annually to debate theology and philosophy, says the charges that Benedict failed in dealing with Hullermann are wrong.

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“The pope’s been accused of mishandling the case in Germany in 1980. It’s innuendo,” he said. “If you look, [the offending priest Peter Hullerman] was transferred for therapy. What he [Ratzinger] knew of this was practically nothing. The decisions were made by the Vicar General – the thing wasn’t as clear cut as it seems.”

Legal action?

Lawyers from sexual abuse victims in the US have suggested they might try to call Benedict to testify in civil suits alleging church negligence. On Thursday a top Vatican lawyer told Rome's Corriere della Sera that Benedict will not be compelled to testify since as a head of state Benedict is immune from being called. The Pope is both head of the global Catholic church and its 1 billion and adherents and monarch of the Vatican.

The likelihood of Benedict stepping down as head of the church is slim. Even in his last, ailing years John Paul II refused to stand down from office as head of the church and monarch of the Vatican. But Benedict’s tenure as pope has been irrevocably damaged in the eyes of some Catholics.

The latest difficulty is that allegations of child abuse by priests have sprung up not only in Ireland but across the Catholic world – including in the pope’s native Germany, from a period when he held senior positions in the German church. Rumors are now spreading of similar cases in the Italian church which, if true, could be a devastating blow in the center of the Catholic world.

Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain, scheduled for September this year, is in his capacity as a head of state. Church critics have promised protests, including from secularists and irate Catholics.

“The fact is that he qualifies as a head of state for some reason. We’re opposed to it being a state visit. To laud somebody like this and pay for it from the taxpayers’ purse is scandalous,” says Terry Sanderson of Britain’s National Secular Society, a group campaigning for separation of church and state. “The prime minister is already talking about it as being a ‘joyous occasion’ – well, a lot of people are absolutely furious with it.”

Benedict's defenders say the current criticism is particularly unfair because, in their view, he's been committed to cleaning up church governance and protecting future generations of Catholic children from abuse. "We owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly abuse of minors," Levada wrote. "

Former monk Richard Sipe, now married and a clinical psychologist disagrees. Author of the seminal study Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, Sipe says that Ratzinger repeatedly refused to laicize (defrock) priests, let along hand them over to the authorities.

“In 1992 in Chicago there was the first national meeting of victims clergy sexual abuse. There were 300 people there and I said at that time: ’The problem we are experiencing now is the tip of the iceberg and if you follow this to its foundation it will lead to the highest corridors of the Vatican.’ I stand by that because it’s systemic,” he says.