The Catholic Church has hit back over claims that Pope Benedict XVI played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by its priests.
One Archbishop labelled a BBC documentary broadcast yesterday evening as unwarranted, misleading and a "deeply prejudiced attack" against the Pope.
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, said the Panorama programme misrepresented confidential Vatican papers to back up its claims.
Speaking on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales, he said: "This aspect of the programme is false and entirely misleading.
"It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope."
The documentary examined a secret document that apparently sets out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.
It claimed the document - Crimen Sollicitationis - was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope.
The 39-page document, written in 1962, apparently instructed Bishops how to deal with claims of child sex abuse.
This includes an oath of secrecy, enforceable by excommunication, which critics claimed could hinder an outside investigation and prosecution.
Expert Father Tom Doyle, a canon solicitor sacked from the Vatican after he criticised its handling of child abuse, interpreted the document for the BBC.
He said it was an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child abuse that emphasised the total control of the Vatican and gave no mention to the victims.
But the Catholic Church said the document was not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional.
It added that the second document, issued in 2001, clarified the law of the Church and does not hinder the investigation of allegations of child abuse.
The programme also claimed to find seven priests facing child abuse allegations living in and around the Vatican City.
Archbishop Nichols, chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA), said the broadcaster should be ashamed by the standard of its journalism.
He said: "Viewers will recognise only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the programme, which uses old footage and undated interviews.
"They will know that aspects of the programme amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader.
"It will further undermine public confidence in Panorama."
However, the Archbishop added that the programme was a reminder of the need to work ceaselessly in the protection of children.
He said the Catholic Church in England and Wales was doing this with transparency and care, as well as full co-operation with public authorities.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, President of the Bishops' Conference, has also written to Mark Thompson, BBC director general, to protest about the programme.
A BBC spokeswoman said yesterday: "The protection of children is clearly an issue of the strongest public interest.
"The BBC stands by tonight's Panorama programme and invites viewers to make up their own minds once they've seen it.
"The BBC has a well-defined complaints system and when we receive the letter we will respond to it."Reuse content